Ryde school teacher encourages students to help clean up Australia
At Ryde Secondary College, students are engaged in a range of sustainability activities, partly thanks to teacher Christopher Yates.
Chris’ work at the school has included supporting student-led projects to reduce plastic use, and helping organise activities for the 1,300 students, including National Tree Day, World Environment Day, Take 3 for the Sea and Clean Up Australia Day.
Under Chris’ guidance, the school also implemented Return and Earn two years ago, working with charity Citizen Blue to install bins with signage at the school. The school is responsible for sorting the containers, and Citizen Blue picks up the contents.
Chris say the biggest challenge has been contamination with other rubbish in the container bins. However, groups of students have worked to educate the school community and change behaviours.
“There’s been a lot of student-led education, such as students getting up at assemblies to remind their peers about what goes in the bins, and creative initiatives such as rewarding students for doing the right thing,” says Chris.
“Decisions about how to use the funds raised are made by the environmental subcommittee of the Student Representative Council,” he adds. “It’s the school’s most successful community group for organising - they’ve led activities for World Environment Day, National Tree Day, and they created ‘Polygone Day’ to make students aware of plastic packaging with lessons about how to reduce their use.”
Schools Clean Up Day, which is part of Clean Up Australia Day, is another way the school has been involved with Return and Earn, as the eligible containers are separated from the other litter and returned.
“This has been a great success story for us each year with 150 students volunteering to cleanup the local area and Buffalo Creek,” says Chris, who has participated in every Clean Up since 1992. “Encouragingly, in the four years at Ryde, we have seen the volume of litter found decrease markedly from more than 20 sacks to less than 10.”
He says the students are very passionate about reducing use of plastic and closing the loop in terms of packaging. “They have approached the school canteen about reducing packaging and they lobby staff to consider purchasing sustainable products where possible - they are really proactive in that,” says Chris. “They are appalled by the amount of plastic waste in our waterways and oceans.”
Year 7 student Maila says, “A simple way for young people to give back to nature is to cut down on plastic and recycle!” Another Year 7 student, Olivia, adds, “The best ways for students to be eco-friendly is to use less plastic and paper, eat less meat and even make a compost pile or bin.”
Chris says that Year 9 students wrote about this issue last year - and their piece won the Young Reporters for the Environment Award. With the prize money, the students were able to buy a state of the art in-ground compost system for the school’s food garden.
More broadly Chris says he is impressed with the grasp of big picture environmental concerns his students have. “The students are extremely aware of global issues like climate change and plastic pollution, and are active through social media with campaigns to force change amongst their peers. That fills me with hope,” says Chris. “Our challenge, as educators, is to get students to apply this knowledge into behaviour change in the face of convenience and consumer pressure.”