6 December 2020

North Ainslie Primary sets benchmark for school playgrounds

| Michael Weaver
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North Ainslie Primary School P&C president Maree Wright holding plant cuttings.

North Ainslie Primary School P&C president Maree Wright preparing to place the first set of cuttings into the school’s new shade house. Photo: Supplied.

Playgrounds in Canberra’s schools are changing and at North Ainslie Primary School, they are literally planting the seeds for learning outside of the classroom, where sustainability is more than just a tricky word to spell.

The school was this week named Sustainable School of the Year at the Actsmart Schools Sustainability Awards, which celebrate excellence in waste and recycling, energy, water and biodiversity to address sustainability in the curriculum.

But this story has roots in a project three years in the making where all of the school’s students, staff and parents have been involved in an initiative where lots of sausages were sizzled and grant applications made to make the idea a reality. The North Ainslie Primary School’s Parents and Citizens’ Association committee has raised more than $50,000 and was also awarded a $20,000 grant from the ACT Government.

The project is to transform the school’s senior oval into a biodiverse area that includes ovals, seating, sensory gardens and natural landscapes. It won’t have fences and will be accessible to students of all needs while improving the environment and being climate hardy.

Shane Rattenbury, Suzanne Orr and Dr Sophie Lewis with sustainable school award winners.

From left: Shane Rattenbury, Suzanne Orr and Dr Sophie Lewis with sustainable school award winners. Photo: Supplied.

The school’s P&C president, Maree Wright, said the award is great recognition, but it is also building a network of ideas that are flowing throughout schools in the ACT.

“Our principal came back from the awards so excited by one of the other schools that has a frog pond with recycled water so it’s really motivating to see what’s being done,” she told Region Media.

“We want to set a benchmark for what school playgrounds should look like. We’ve given our designers a really hard time but we’ve come up with a great masterplan and will begin construction early next year.”

Their project has also included learnings on Indigenous culture from Tyronne Bell, who is a strong advocate for the recognition of the culture and language of the Ngunawal people.

“Tyronne came and spoke to the students, staff and parents,” said Maree. “It was amazing to hear him speak about the changes in season and what that means here. There was such a positive response from the parents and teachers who are really keen to grow that learning.

“It’s really nice to be part of a community where that’s just the default. The standard is that we are a sustainable school and it is now a part of everything we do.”

North Ainslie Primary School P&C members during a working bee to build a new greenhouse.

Kathryn Dwan and Kylie Giltrap in front of the greenhouse with Theo, Tony Hill and Antho Buykx during a working bee on 15 November, 2020. Photo: Supplied.

ACT Minister for Water, Energy and Emissions Reduction Shane Rattenbury said North Ainslie Primary School has encouraged students to become involved in sustainability projects at school – such as water-saving awareness and recycling education – and provided the opportunity for younger students to learn about the environment.

“I am thrilled to see so many students in Canberra getting involved in environmental action and using their creativity to promote sustainability in their schools and community,” he said.

“Congratulations to all the nominees this year. Your commitment to improving your school’s sustainability plays an important role in building on the ACT’s sustainability and climate change action.”

Sustainability in Canberra’s schools was also celebrated in the virtual Actsmart Eco Bus Tour presentation played at the awards. The competition invited participants to submit a student-led video to share their school’s sustainable activities and climate change action. The winning video came from Kaleen Primary School.

Actsmart Schools Sustainability Awards recipients:

  • Sustainable Project Award Primary: Kaleen Primary School, Frog Pond Community Project.
  • Sustainable Project Award Secondary: Calwell High School, Bicycle Repair Workshop.
  • Leadership Award Primary Student: Paige Davis, Aranda Primary School.
  • Leadership Award Primary Student: Zoe Zakharoff, Aranda Primary School.
  • Leadership Award Secondary Student: Imogen Simmons, Merici College.
  • Leadership Award Primary Teacher or Staff: Kelly Reeves, Kaleen Primary School.
  • Leadership Award Secondary Teacher or Staff: Ummehani Rangwalla, St Mary MacKillop College.
  • Student Leadership Team Award Primary: Eco Warriors, Gold Creek School.
  • Student Leadership Team Award Secondary: Sustainability and Waste Action (SWAG), Dickson College.
  • Sustainable School of the Year Award: North Ainslie Primary School.

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