Educating the next generation of conservationists
FOR WICOR Primary School the natural environment is not just part of their curriculum but is the driving force behind every aspect.
This underlying philosophy of the Portchester school is led by headteacher Mark Wildman.
‘I lived in the Chiltern Hills as a child and as a boy growing up I loved learning about the natural environment. My father-in-law was a botanist and he also really helped me to learn about flora and fauna,’ he said.
‘I believe it is important for children to be informed when it comes to the natural environment and to encourage them to be observant and think critically about the natural world around them.’
If the direction is provided by Mr Wildman then the person driving initiative forward is Year 6 teacher, Alison Nash.
Mrs Nash explained: ‘Fundamentally children have a strong connection to the nature. Our aim is to give pupils a firm foundation in natural history. The natural world is so ingrained in our curriculum - they are constantly learning about the environment and its conservation.’
The prominence of the natural world is inescapable. The school has its own pond, green house and tropical garden. A cultivation area that includes an orchard, allotments and even a resident brood of chickens. As children play in the early spring sun they are surrounded by creatures from the Jurassic past including a model of a stegosaurus and tyrannosaurus.
The emphasis on using nature in learning has even led to the school employing a resident horticulturist, Louise Bryant.
‘The position is essential in maximising the rich learning opportunities at Wicor. We are lucky to have extensive grounds and I see my role as using my practical knowledge to help bring nature to life. Learning about the natural world is a vital part of education and we incorporate it into every aspect of the curriculum,’ she explained.
It is a direction of learning which the children appear to relish and has manifested itself in a wide range of activities and learning.
AN ENVIRONMENT DRIVEN CURRICULUM
‘The move towards an environment driven curriculum began 10 years ago with the refit of the school’s pond,' explained Mr Wildman
With the environment now underpinning every facet of learning at the school it is impossible to fully do justice to every activity and initiative.
One of the key focuses has been to generate environmentally friendly enterprise which benefits both the school and the local community.
As Mrs Nash explained: ‘We have been cultivating our own mint tea. The children are involved in the whole process including designing the label. They have also been involved in the production of environmentally friendly soap – without palm oil and plastic.’
‘We also have our own vegetable box scheme which is run by Year 4 to 6. The planting, nurturing and harvesting of the organic produce is all done by the children. Some of the fruit and vegetables we use here in our own kitchen and we also get eggs from the chickens,’ added Mr Wildman.
There is also an enterprise aspect to the scheme with the children once again at the forefront of the business.
‘The soap and tea are all sold to the local community. We have regular customers who come to the school office to buy our soap and tea. In the last month we have sold 336 bars of soap. The children are involved in calling up customers to take orders for the vegetable boxes and inform them when they are ready for collection,’
In recent years, instigated by the children, the school have branched out even further to produce their own honey whilst at the same time helping to maintain the countries endangered bee population.
‘We started with our own bee hives four years ago. We bought specialist bee suits for the children which enable them to go into the hives to collect the honey and check that the been population are healthy,’ added Mrs Nash.
Supported by our own initiative at The News, the children have also played a key role in reducing the consumption of single use plastics.
‘Currently the children are campaigning for refillable glue sticks. The children care about excessive use of plastics ending up in our waterways. They have been writing off to the the makers of Prittstick and I know they won’t stop until they get something done,’ said Mr Wildman.
As part of the school’s drive to reduce plastic pollution it has become a community hub for recycling.
‘People in the local community can drop off plastic triggers from spray bottles, and pens as well as Walkers crisp packets and Pringle tubes. Waste management company, Terri Gate, then collect them from us for recycling,’ said Mrs Nash.
More recently the school has also become involved in the Blue Foundation Project to help reintroduce oysters to the Solent and monitor both the oyster population and the water quality.
WHAT THE CHILDREN THINK
Year 2 classmates Phoebe Ward and George Martin, both seven, can regularly be found in the school’s allotments and vegetable garden.
‘I like planting things and watching them grow. We grow raspberries, potatoes and tomatoes which I sometimes take home to eat,’ explained Phoebe.
George added: ‘We recently had a tree planting day which I really enjoyed. It is important to plant trees as they take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.’
In addition to those activities embedded within the curriculum, many of the children also partake in a host of additional clubs.
Gardening Club participant, Arthur Harris, seven, said: ‘I love being part of the Gardening Club and helping to make sure all our plants and trees are in good condition. Last week I helped to put chippings around the trees to help keep them warm. It is great to be in a school which really cares for the environment.’
Whatever the activity the children undertake, the underlying principle of conservation is at the core of children’s learning.
Year 3 pupil, Darcy Pointon-Clarke, 7, said: ‘It is really important we look after our planet otherwise our wildlife will start to disappear. This can affect the food chains as if one animal dies out it will then impact on other wildlife.’
Ruby Ogden, 10, added: ‘It is important we protect the natural environment as we are destroying the habitat in which animals live. For example plastics in the ocean take thousands of years to biodegrade and this is really affecting the marine ecosystem.’
The work carried out by the school has been recognised with a series of accolades.
In 2014 the school was afforded Green Ambassador status by the World Wide Fund For Nature for their work on food and the environment and also received recognition as runners up in the charity’s biodiversity award. This was followed up in 2017 with a National Schools award in recognition of Wicor's work in helping to preserve the country’s diminishing bee population.
Headteacher Mark Wildman said: ‘Whilst it is nice to receive recognition, I am most proud of the fact we are educating environmentally aware children which is vital for the next generation and the future of our planet.’