Awards for green schemes reflect the benefits to the whole school and its community, says Kevin Berry
What makes a green teacher? After talking to some of the finalists in the Tetra Pak Award for environmental teaching, two elements stand out - an unshakeable commitment to a sustainable future and a willingness to let parents and the wider community join in school-based projects.
Then there is the hope, always modestly expressed, that "if I wasn't here, for whatever reason, the schemes would simply carry on".
Six finalists were shortlisted for the award and the judges visited the schools to see how they used the environment to teach a range of subject areas.
It is a scheme for UK primary schools. First prize is Pounds 1,500 to be divided equally between the teacher and the school and the winning teacher also receives Pounds 1,000 to give to a local community project of his or her own choice. A trip to Sweden to see reforestation projects and sustainably managed forests, used in the production of Tetra Pak's cartons, completes the winner's prize package.
All six finalists used, or perhaps badgered is more accurate, local industries and agencies for materials and help with funding. One finalist summed up the benefits of a direct approach: "First they said no. Then they gave me things to get rid of me. Now they are showing some interest!" Angela Peake of Heamoor CP school in Penzance has worked closely with the Forestry Commission, which has in turn been sponsored by SWEB, the regional Electricity Board. Her pupils have planted 200 trees so far this year, making a total of 300 in the school grounds.
The children will soon be planting up to 2,000 trees on some ground just a quarter of a mile away from their school as part of a local council initiative.
This was Angela Peake's second appearance as a finalist. She has a range of recycling bins outside the school grounds, providing a funding source for even more trees. "It's providing services not only for the children and their parents but for the community as well," she says.
Samuel Barlow School in Clipstone, Nottinghamshire, lacks natural environmental advantages but it now has an inspiring playground and a blossoming school field. Teacher Marie Sparrow recognises the importance of imaginative play and the children's physical well-being and she has ensured that the school's environment will help. Her playground has lots of boldly coloured murals and exciting activity areas. The once barren field has a sturdy hedgerow on two sides, designed and planted by the children.
"There is a fitnessactivity trail on the field linking up to activities in the playground - mirrors, chalk boards, trains, a boat, number snakes. It all helps develop the children's social awareness, their play and physical skills," she says.
Teachers at Samuel Barlow who have been on teacher placement at a Do it All store, a nearby butterfly centre and at a Mansfield brickworks have kept their links and have been given materials and funding. The children have visited the workplaces to raise their business awareness.
The winner of the Tetra Pak Award, announced last week, is a teacher at Whitby's Stakesby CP School, Heather Bennett, known locally as "that animal woman". She has many well-planned and mutually compatible aspects to her environmental work. Sustainability is a constant theme.
"The infants are each growing a sunflower seed," she says. "We will have a sunflower forest outside and the seeds will feed the doves. We grow comfrey for the hens, we use the hens' eggs for baking and selling . . . and we have a huge and very hot compost heap!" Stakesby School's substantial grounds have an animal area, an impressive pound surrounded by flat "kneeling stones", a wild area for rabbits and children to explore at lunchtime and a delightful Tudor garden planned and planted by the children. Each Tudor herb carries an informative label such as "THYME - use as a gargle for sore throat" and "FENNEL - aids digestion of fatty food".
"Aesthetically it does look nice," agrees Heather. " But that's not the idea. The idea is that it's used by everyone in school. I'm happy for the children to come in at weekends. I want other schools to come and use these areas. Our next project is a wild flower area."
She has used the school's fully enclosed quadrangle to provide a safe and secure area for furry animals, hens and birds. Children throughout the school are introduced to life cycles at a practical level and the animals' rights are respected without question. Any offspring replenish the school stock or are taken home - the list of hopeful potential owners is long!
Children are totally responsible for the area, designing enclosures, monitoring the animals and choosing and ordering food. Should allergies interfere with the responsibility rota, there are always stick insects to look after. Heather Bennett has noticed some of her tougher children visibly softening and becoming kinder and more considerate, a change she puts down to working with and handling animals. Grateful parents have offered anecdotal evidence of changes in behaviour and attitude at home.
The school's environmental areas have been "visited" by vandals but Heather is adamant that they are not children from her school, and listening to the strength of her conviction you have to believe her.
Also promoting this sense of community responsibility, the Tidy Britain Group has an Eco Schools Award which gives schools a green flag, rather like the Blue Flag for clean branches, and a logo to be used on the school's headed notepaper. The Eco award is wonderfully flexible. Guide lines are offered, you decide when your school is ready to be assessed and the award is renewable every two years.
The Tidy Britain group also generates links with European schools. British Secondary Schools with French partner schools working on a joint environmental project can try for the Franco-British Council's Education and Environmental Award which has a Pounds 5,000 prize. This year the first prize went to Durham High School for Girls for their water recycling proposal.
There are other awards and it's nice to have a certificate but green teachers get their rewards at a more personal and immediate level. At Heather Bennett's school, the children will line up quietly to wait their turn to explore the wild area, she calls it "their own personal jungle", dozens will dash to the pond and then suddenly slow down, obeying the unwritten safety and priority rules.
Tetra Pak Award, Educational Communications, 14-16 Great Pulteney St, London W1R 3DG. Tel: 0171 453 4650 * Eco Schools, Tidy Britain Group, The Pier, Wigan WN3 4EX. Tel: 01942 824620 * School Partnership Prize, Franco-British Council, British Section, 4749 Strutton Ground, London SW1P 2HY. Tel: Ann Kenrick on 0171 976 8380.
* Also, highly recommended, Grants, Competitions and Awards for Environmental Education, Pounds 1.50 from the Council for Environmental Education, University of Reading, London Road, Reading RG1 5AQ. Tel: 01734 756061