Students and gardens flourish at Te Aroha Primary

Holly Brittenden and her class of Year 6 and 7 students lived and learnt sustainability at Te Aroha Primary in 2015. When the students identified their learning and behaviour needs at the start of the year, it became obvious to Holly, that a “normal” classroom programme would not provide them with best learning experiences. Predominately boys, they were practically minded and wanting something more hands-on. Holly threw her plan out the window and decided to work with her students to design their own curriculum for the year by creating a sustainable business that was all about learning through doing.

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The students wanted to grow their own veges, share their knowledge with others and encourage their parent community to grow their own gardens. They called themselves ‘The Green Team’. The class wrote their own business plan. They then wrote a letter to the board explaining their intentions and requested a loan of $10 start-up capital. Each of the students also contributed 50 cents to the cause. They got to work utilising the already existing school gardens, worm farms and compost bins.

When a problem arose, they worked collaboratively to see how they could solve it, researching ideas and trying them out. They bought seeds, learnt how to raise them, and soon discovered all the interconnected elements needed to create a healthy and sustainable vegetable garden. It appeared that nothing exists in isolation!

Cabbage butterflies and caterpillars were all over the garden at the start of the year, so with a bit of research they decided to make their own natural insecticide by creating a garlic spray. They revived the school worm farm and learnt all about worms and what they needed in the process. They also discovered how valuable the worm wee was, both for their own gardens and as marketable product that they would sell at their pop-up shops. When some of the plants weren’t growing so well, they decided to make their own ‘Poo Soup’ using cow pats from the neighbouring farm.

Little seedlings need gentle watering, so they made their own watering cans with sprinklers by drilling holes in the caps of milk bottles. Students also learnt about water conservation, mulching and that the best time of day to water is early in the morning.

They used experts from their parent community who shared knowledge of gardening and passed on tips for the students to try. Mrs B shared her love of cooking and instilled in the students a passion for cooking from the garden with zucchini fritters, garden salad with dressing, pumpkin soup, spinach quiche, lemon honey and meringues being favourites.

Students were so excited and engaged in what they were doing. They were budgeting, planting, growing, learning about organic gardening and creating their own healthy food from their own healthy garden. Everything they did had an authentic purpose and was connected to everything else. In Term 2 one of the students, so engrossed in her work, was surprised when she realised she learning and having fun at the same time, “We are writing Miss”, she said.

The class wanted to get their families involved. They ran two pop up shops and a pop-up restaurant and catered for 70 people. You can imagine organisation and collaboration required, marketing, designing labels for products, determining price points, creating invitations, menus and designing the restaurant. . . Parents got inspired and the students started helping them to grow their own food at home.

Documenting the journey was also a significant part of the year. Miah, a Year 6 student got behind the camera and directed and edited her first film that had its own Premiere Screening in December. The class made sure dignitaries including Mayor Jan Barnes and Ministry of Education officials were invited to the auspicious event. The class also wrote their own book “Dug Up From the Garden” featuring of recipes and gardening tips learnt during the course of the year. And at just $5, it quickly sold out the launch.

Learning was purposeful and fitted the needs of the students and results speak volumes: at the start of the year the national standard achievement for writing was 38%; by the end of the year it was 79%. National standard achievement in reading and mathematics also showed considerable improvement. Equally, the confidence, passion and sense of achievement simply shone out of the students at their end of year celebration.

So what happened to the initial $20 that the Green Team invested? It turned into over $500. $250 was donated to the Te Aroha Foodbank and the rest was presented to their lead teacher of Enviroschools at Prizegiving for Enviroschools projects for 2016. And the $20? Well that was returned to the investors!

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