St Andrew's School for Girls eco-education

Reflecting on Our Eco Journey

The year 2022 marks St Andrew’s School for Girls monumental 120th anniversary.

When we look back over the years, we want to celebrate not only what we have accomplished academically and on the sports field, but also the positive impact we have had on our local and global environments. Education and environmental issues go hand-in-hand, and we feel that maximising our opportunities to inform, educate and, ultimately, foster progressive social change, is not only necessary, but vital.

We believe in developing habits in our students that will encourage a resilient awareness of the impact of their actions on the environment, both negative and positive. A hands-on approach, utilising active engagement, develops a conscience that drives constructive change through learned habits. We have prioritised the empowerment of our students by supplying the knowledge and skills necessary to shape the changes we need to see in the environment, with conservation as a critical pillar of our vision.

We participate in the WESSA Eco-Schools programme

Our various projects and endeavours are structured through the WESSA Eco-Schools programme. WESSA launched the Eco-Schools programme – currently the world’s largest sustainable development education programme – to support and improve school curricula regarding environmental learning and equip children to live sustainably in the future.

Our efforts, showcased in an annual report to the WESSA Eco-Schools programme, have been awarded Platinum 1 Decade status. We were also awarded a certificate for Outstanding Portfolio.

These prestigious awards acknowledge the effort that we have made to sustain our environmental projects consistently over 16 years. We use a combination of project-based
and experiential learning opportunities to create a deeper awareness of environmental issues like waste management, climate change, food security, national and cultural identity, and our interactions with nature.

The Eco-Schools programme we advocate is based on 11 themes designed to emphasise global environmental issues. These themes are Biodiversity and Nature; Energy; Health and Wellbeing; Marine and Coastal Environments; Water; Transport; Climate Change; Community and Heritage; Waste; School Grounds, and Eco-Tourism. Theme-based activities are integrated into our extramural activities and our day-to-day curriculum through the various subjects offered.

St Andrew's School for Girls pupils

Our ongoing Eco projects

We have a functioning recycling station on the school grounds. We sort through our waste, separating recyclables from non-recyclables, which are regularly collected from our campus. By educating pupils about the importance of recycling, we aim to inspire them to think about how their actions affect the planet and their future environment. We hope that the recycling habits they learn at school will extend into tackling their waste reduction at home, leading to them becoming more waste-conscientious adults.

Composting provides valuable environmental and educational advantages to our schooling environment and helps students understand concepts such as ‘decomposition’ and ‘energy cycles’ while reducing the amount of organic material in landfills. At St Andrew’s last year this translated into 4,311 tons of food waste being diverted from landfills, saving 2,7 tons of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions.

Attentive to all aspects

St Andrew’s promotes the planting of indigenous plants such as Spekboom to reduce carbon dioxide while being water-wise and indigenous. This is an ongoing initiative, and the planting thereof has become increasingly noticeable throughout the school. Exotic trees on the school’s grounds have been replaced with indigenous trees supporting local ecosystems. In addition to this, a succulent wall was introduced to the campus to aid in climate resilience.

Adding to the changes in climate, the current water crises experienced in South Africa makes the harvesting of rainwater essential. Thus we enhance the ability of human society to survive in the future by depending on the knowledge of historical adaptive processes that are still functional, rainwater harvesting being one such process.

The installation of various rainwater tanks at our school has resulted in a reduction in costs and increased learning opportunities that promote the efficient use of available resources.

We participate in annual Earth Hour activities to highlight the importance of saving our planet by committing to pledges, investigating different ways to spend our time without using electricity and testing our general knowledge.

This is further integrated into our everyday school activities that introduce ways to reduce our electricity usage, such as the appointment of Class Energy Monitors responsible for making sure that the lights are switched off when not needed. We have also started replacing regular lights with LED lights, and we have had a LEMS system installed.

All our new buildings have an eco-friendly focus, as is evident in the Dinaledi Science Centre added to our campus in 2020. These classrooms are designed to use natural daylight and have been equipped with solar lights.

To further our efforts to ‘stay green’, this project uses solar panels to generate an alternative source of energy and provide the students with the opportunity to learn about saving energy and how solar power works. A screen has been provided in the Science Centre to show the school’s energy-saving statistics.

The Dinaledi Science Centre rooftop provides us with an additional vegetable garden, and these vegetables are harvested and distributed to staff members and a local soup kitchen. These gardens are a tool for garden-based learning and education, where our pupils learn about agriculture, natural sciences and nutrition.

Paper use in our school remains a challenge. While we cannot eliminate the use of paper, we are focused on reducing paper usage and energy by encouraging back-to-back printing and decreasing the use of desktop printers.

We raise awareness around endangered species and the effects of poaching in an annual rhino shoutout event. These endangered species became our focus as they are keystone species, and by protecting them, we can protect all animals in the ecosystem. The funds we raised were donated to The Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation’s project called #ChasingZero, which focuses on protecting endangered species, including the rhino.

We advocate awareness of biodiversity in our weekly assemblies and highlight important eco days. We were privileged to participate in an owl release programme – feeding teams and rosters, release-day countdowns and postrelease observations were enjoyed by girls from the preschool to the senior school. A talk about the declining number of bird species in South Africa was delivered to inform us of what we could do to prevent the loss of entire species.

Dinaledi rooftop garden at St Andrew's School for Girls

Our future projects

As the general move towards sustainable energy gains momentum and solar energy is a readily accessible resource in South Africa, we plan to construct solar canopies in our parking areas by utilising land that has already been cleared, while providing shade for cars and renewable electricity for the school’s use.

Our preschool is introducing a worm farm that will not only create a valuable active learning experience and process for the students, but will also provide an opportunity to look after the environment and to explore different levels of sustainability in a visible, interactive way.

A greenhouse eco-tunnel is an exciting project on the cards that will allow our students the opportunity to learn about cuttings and the growing of plants. With this structure, our learners will gain a greater appreciation of food production and be able to provide underprivileged schools with seedlings to start their own vegetable gardens.

The introduction of water heat pumps is currently being investigated to reduce the costs and electricity consumption, thereby reducing our carbon footprint.

Our overall aims

We plan to continue deepening the students’ environmental cognisance through discussions on how to improve our collective responsibility towards the treatment of our environment so that it can become a lifelong practice. Ongoing awareness of how our actions adversely affect our environments and biomes will be actively promoted in the classroom and at our weekly assemblies.

Our overall aim is to encourage young South African women to continue highlighting and hopefully implementing initiatives that will improve the general well-being of our natural resources and ecosystems at both a local and international level. The secret to the success of our vision is in making fun-filled learning experiences to instil responsibility, with the focus being on concrete action.

Let me conclude with a perspective that may sound radical but is, in fact, very real. Humankind is part of the environment; to this end, we are mutually dependent on each other for survival. If we fail the environment, it places the future of our planet and humankind at significant risk and on the brink of an existential crisis. We want St Andrew’s School for Girls to play a role that will inadvertently contribute meaningfully to mitigating the real and present risk to our very existence.