Prior to joining the Kreative Koalas program in 2019, students from western Sydney’s James Erskine Public School (JEPS) were already on a sustainability trajectory. They had been involved in Clean Up Australia Day and National Tree Day, had established a vegetable garden, a sensory garden and a bee garden, and recycled paper and cardboard weekly.
Then a giant white fibreglass koala landed on their doorstep and sent their environmental awareness into overdrive. They spoke with YFC Anika Molesworth about climate change and its effects on farmers, implemented composting and became part of the Return and Earn scheme by collecting recyclable containers.
“When we looked at what we could see and feel for ourselves – hotter days, longer drought, water restrictions, extreme weather, bags and bags of garbage headed to landfill, rubbish blowing across the playground, abandoned chicken coops and overgrown gardens… It was easy to see the changes that we needed to make. Our concept inspired the individual pictures on our koala and each day she grew. As we learned new things, we added them, it was a work in progress,” the students said in their Kreative Koalas artwork analysis.
But did JEPS maintain this enthusiasm once the project ended for the year?
“Kreative Koalas had a snowball effect on us. Since September last year we have continued the container recycling and returned over 7900 containers, earning the school $790. This has been used to purchase native bee hotels and a worm farm, and to sponsor a koala through World Wildlife Fund. This year we will also look at soft plastic recycling and possibly get chickens for the school.” teacher Taryn Pears says.
Their fibreglass koala, named Climb It, now holds pride of place in a purpose-built garden at the school.
“She’s surrounded by native plants and all the students are excited to see her on display,” Taryn says
And although Covid-19 has meant JEPS will not be taking part in the 2020 Kreative Koalas, the school continues to feed off the KK momentum.
“I was so glad we had the opportunity last year and we’ve had amazing feedback from the parents and the kids and even other schools who have called me up asking for advice. We have joined forces with Cassandra Lindsay [from Oxley Park Public School] and established a Kid’s Kitchen and Garden where the kids can grow edible plants and cook them. It has been wonderful to show the kids that small changes can make big differences.” ” Taryn says.
In 2020 the Kreative Koalas program, in conjunction with The Archibull Prize for secondary schools, has been adapted so it continues to reach students and teachers, even in a global pandemic! The importance of these programs is not lost on those in the wider community and extends to the political realm.
“I was so impressed with the student and school projects that were showcased at last year’s presentation. The children were outstanding in their delivery and the koalas, of course, are both an item of beauty and knowledge.” says Pauline Dunne Team Leader from the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment says.
JEPS exemplifies the ethos of Picture You in Agriculture. Programs such as Kreative Koalas, and The Archibull Prize, are not one off events but rather paths to a sustainable future where our young people can be part of the solution and drivers of the change our world needs.