School sews stewardship seeds

For students at St Mary's Catholic College, Gateshead, celebrating the glory of creation is not limited to September.

The expanding College is considered a leader when it comes to implementing environmental initiatives, which actively encourage students to be stewards of the Earth.

Each year, students at the College plant nearly 1,000 trees along the nearby creek bed; tend to a bush tucker garden; get their hands wet in the marine science room; embrace opportunities to reduce waste and learn about sustainable food preparation in hospitality classes and the adjoining café; observe the ecology of a dedicated frog garden; and, cultivate a growing number of native stingless beehives.

School Principal, Larry Keating, says providing students with cross-curriculum opportunities that promote care for the environment helps develop their social conscience.

"We all have a responsibility to be socially aware and prepared to do our bit to care for the environment" Mr Keating said. To ensure this is the case, the College actively encourages hands-on learning experiences.

"We're empowering our students to be stewards of creation rather than simply talking about it and agreeing with it,” he said. “This experience is especially important for this generation of students, more so than any other generation. They have such a vital role to play in preserving our creative order and our environment in particular."

Katrina Piper is a science teacher at St Mary's and said that over the years she had noticed students becoming increasingly aware of what is going on in the world around them, mainly due to time spent online.

"Students are often hearing and reading discussions about climate change on social media, and they see the impact of devastating environmental events such as bushfires," Mrs Piper said.

Over the past 10 years, with assistance from Lake Macquarie City Council, her colleague Mrs Maryanne Murray, fellow members of staff and many Landcare students have transformed a once barren drain bordering the school property into a thriving ecosystem.

"I like to get students out of the classroom and down to the creek bed to get their hands dirty," Mrs Piper said. "By encouraging our students to be hands-on learners they are not just hypothesising from a textbook, they get to see first-hand what a thriving ecosystem looks like and study its effects."

However, it is not just gains students make in their studies that Mrs Piper uses to judge the success of the College’s environmental programs.

"When students come down to the creek and help out by planting trees, clearing weeds and removing rubbish, they begin to realise that they're not helpless, that they can support our environment, every day," she said.

Nicholas Cummings is in Year 10 at St Mary's and although he feels the burden of a deteriorating environment, he is buoyed by taking part in the College’s Landcare program.

"I feel good that I can help,” Nicholas said. “I enjoy being outside and doing what I can. I don't like how the environment is being destroyed, and this is one of the most direct ways that I can lend my support."

Nicholas's peer, Kamryn Posner, is also in Year 10 and said exercising her green thumb at the College is hugely rewarding.

"I like helping to plant tiny saplings and then waiting for them to become huge, towering trees,” Kamryn said. “I can't quite explain the feeling. It's just such a rush being able to do something so small, and witness its big impact."

Mrs Piper said it is the reason kids are volunteering to come back, year after year, to help plant trees. “They feel a great sense of connectedness,” she said. “It's such an incredible gift to share with them."

Despite St Mary's already making significant gains in the local environment, its staff and students have no plans to rest on their laurels.

"I see it as a moral imperative that we educate our students to understand what it means to care for the environment," Mr Keating said.

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Lizzie Snedden Image
Lizzie Snedden

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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