Mini-Me: How Paddock Pen Pals is creating junior Young Farming Champions

Three years ago teacher Zoe Stephens and Action4Agriculture program director Lynne Strong  introduced a new way of connecting school students with young professionals working in agriculture. Called Paddock Pen Pals the program utilised online audio and web conferencing to beam Young Farming Champions (YFC) directly into the classroom.

Paddock Pen Pals was launched at Sydney’s Carlingford West Public School, a large inner-west primary school with a high percentage of English-second-language students, where 300 Year 6 students gained insights into sheep and the wool supply chain from YFCs Danila Marini, Dione Howard, Sam Wan and Chloe Dutschke.

At the time Zoe Stephens was a teacher at Carlingford West:

“Many of my students have little time outside and have never visited a farm. In order to make their learning relevant, I wanted to connect them to real farmers to share what they have learnt and see what real farms are actually doing in Australia.”

Paddock Pen Pals has been an enormous success, particularly as COVID curtailed excursions and face-to-face interactions. It has involved a range of Young Farming Champions across diverse sectors of agriculture and inspired students from a diverse range of schools. Relationships forged in 2019 continue with Carlingford West Public School participating again this year.

Our relationship with Zoe Stephens has also continued. Zoe now delivers teaching and learning programs for the City Country Alliance of Schools and has recommended Paddock Pen Pals to 60 new schools. She has even written a Paddock Pen Pals Best Practice manual for teachers just as Young Farming Champion Emily May has written a manual for fellow YFC.

Recently Action4Agriculture  program director Lynne Strong introduced Zoe to A4A’s long-term friend and fellow farm blogger Alison Rutledge. Prior to her daughters starting school, Alison created KT’s Farm Life to connect young people in the city to the paddock through the eyes of her then 4 year old daughter

Since Alison’s daughters started school Alison has been coordinating kitchen gardening at St Raphael’s Catholic School at Cowra, in central-west New South Wales.

Keen to support Zoe’s work connecting country and city schools Alison devised Paddock Pen Pals with a twist. Influenced by our Young Farming Champions she asked her own daughters – Kaitlyn (KT) now 15 and Erin now 10 to create a video showing life on their farm with their 3000 sheep, 200 cows, 13 chooks and working dogs, showing typical activities such bottle-feeding poddy lambs, hay-feeding cattle and delivering new-born calves.

You can catch Kaitlyn and Erin’s wonderful version of Paddock Pen Pals here.

Beautiful new friendships are now being developed on the back of the video as students from different schools swap letters and share stories; a lasting legacy of the Paddock Pen Pals program and the Young Farming Champions who have inspired Mini-Mes.


More good news for our koalas from Raymond Terrace Public School

Following on from our blog on Warrawee Care Centre and their student’s work to save koalas and support Port Stephens Koala Hospital, we have more good news to share.

Back in the 2019 edition of Kreative Koalas Raymond Terrace Public School was awarded Grand Champion Koala for their vibrantly decorated, life-sized fibreglass koala named Mitjigan Guula, which means girl koala in Worimi language. In collaboration with their Aboriginal Girl’s Group the school incorporated indigenous designs on their artwork to look at the effects of climate change on koala populations. And, in what unfortunately proved to be timely, the koala portrayed how inaction on climate change can lead to devastating bushfires.

The students donated their Grand Champion prize money and Mitjigan Guula to the Port Stephens Koala Hospital.

In 2020 Raymond Terrace Public School continued their Kreative Koala journey by investigating traditional aboriginal methods of firestick farming and modern issues around bushfires, especially in regards to the plight of the koala. In 2020 the school was awarded joint winner of best artwork.

Roll forward to 2022 and on August 11, the Port Stephens Koala Hospital was officially opened with special guest Hon. Tanya Plibersek, Federal Minister for Environment and Water – and Mya Bolte and Kytaya Bolt-Wells who were part of the 2019 Raymond Terrace Kreative Koala entry.

Mya and Kytaya now attend Hunter River High School and were invited to the opening ceremony in recognition of their work to protect koalas. They were called on stage where Port Stephens Koala Hospital Ron Land thanked them for the school’s custodianship and donations. In return, Kytaya spoke a few words of thanks.

While we here at Action4Agriculture like to share good news stories such as this, it is estimated there are only 250-300 koalas left in the Port Stephens area and that, without intervention, they could be extinct in NSW by 2050. Our Kreative Koala kids can lead us all on a journey of koala recovery.

#kreativekoalakids #youthvoices #creatingabetterworldtogether

How Warrawee Care Centre uses Kreative Koalas to save our koalas and embed lasting change

A concern for the future of koalas has inspired students at Warrawee Care Centre to use Kreative Koalas as a tool to “learn more, raise awareness and be heard”, which has allowed them to create a legacy for their school and community.

Warrawee Care Centre is an outside of school hours (OOSH) service located on the grounds of Warrawee Public School in northern Sydney, which empowers students to plan experiences alongside educators. Over the COVID-strangled years from 2020 to 2022, 100 students developed a community action plan called “Save Our Koalas”.

“Our project began with the bushfires of 2019 and an interested group of children who watched the news and learnt of the plight of the koalas across the eastern coastal areas of NSW. They came to staff keen to make a difference and have their voices heard and within a week were actioning a way to raise awareness and funds to support the koalas.”

Guided by Sustainable Development Goals 13 Climate Action and 15 Life on Land, Warrawee students set three goals of their own to learn about koalas, raise awareness and establish partnerships with koala-friendly organisations.

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In order to increase their knowledge they collaborated with a range of people and organisations. They invited local veterinarian Prue Honson to speak to them about the effects of the fires on koalas, they visited the Koala Park Sanctuary at West Pennant Hills to learn about koala habitat and they connected with the Port Stephens Koala Hospital to learn how to care for injured koalas.

Collaboration continued when Warrawee reached out to Clovelly OOSH that was also campaigning for koalas. The two centres set up a pen pal program and children shared research and posters. Another pen pal program encouraged care and awareness in families and community:

“Children developed a family pen pal program during the COVID 2021 lockdown in which we had 8 koala soft toys that visited children’s homes for the weekend. Children then researched about koalas, created a koala shelter and took a photo then added the photo and what they had learnt into a scrapbook. This allowed our SAVE THE KOALA campaign to continue and for families to be involved. Our koalas visited over 60 homes and raised awareness in many households!”

Students raised $890 by holding market stalls and selling donated koala merchandise. They researched how best to invest their funds and once again connected with the Port Stephens Koala Hospital.


“We now sponsor four koalas each year and when our current koalas are released we vote on which new koala to adopt. The legacy of the SAVE THE KOALA campaign lives on!”

COVID created many challenges for the students of Warrawee Care Centre. Lockdowns meant schools were closed and their Kreative Koalas project extended over two years. It also meant a cohort of students leaving the Care Centre (for high school) and leaving specific projects (such as a website) uncompleted. But despite the setbacks the staff reflected on success.

“Children learnt how valued their collective voices could be and the importance of speaking out when you are passionate about something. The plight of our koalas and the link with Port Stephens Koalas is now part of our service culture and something that children will continue to talk about for years to come. The legacy of the Kreative Koala project will live on visually through our giant painted koala, our wall displays and our sponsorship budget.


“Overall, the Kreative Koalas program has been a rewarding and empowering experience. When educators were ready to stop, the children kept driving the project forward. They investigated, researched and advocated for SAVE THE KOALAS and through community involvement, educator collaboration and family engagement are one step closer to helping the koalas in NSW.”

Through child-led learning, facilitated by Kreative Koalas, the students of Warrawee Care Centre have taken an idea from the ashes of the 2019 bushfires and used their voices to make a difference. They set and met goals to increase their knowledge, raise awareness in their community and create a lasting legacy with Port Stephens Koala Hospital. Warrawee students and staff represent the Kreative Koalas program at its finest.

 #KreativeKoalas #YouthVoices #EndangeredSpecies 

Are you a young person with a big idea that will help other young people in rural and regional Australia take action?

If you are a  young person with a big idea that will help other young people take action then the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation’s new granting program Backing the Future, with one-off, $50,000 grants to individuals 18+ whose work is focused on rural and regional young people might be just what you need to get your big idea to the proof of concept stage.

These grants are designed to back individuals researching, piloting or accelerating early-stage, innovative ideas aligned to one of the Foundation’s four focus areas: Caring for the Environment, Contributing to Society, Decent Work and Exploring Christian Faith and Values.

This is a unique opportunity for individuals to access funding to take their ideas to the next level. The Foundation is particularly excited to read applications from young people.

This web page provides an overview of Backing the Future and how to apply.

Applications close Wednesday 31 August 2022.

#YouthVoices #YouthAction #BackingtheFuture