Kreative Koalas 2022 has once again introduced us to a cohort of exciting, future-focused young people in primary schools with vivid imaginations and a drive to create a better and brighter world. It has also introduced us to The Living Classroom Project, an outdoor classroom where students build permaculture systems and become leaders as Garden Ambassadors.
The Living Classroom is the brainchild of Aaron Sorensen and Daniel Deighton from Elemental Permaculture, who together have over forty years of experience in making the Illawarra region a better place to live. Daniel is a specialist in environmental restoration and a landscape architect, who has previously been involved with the transformation of Tom Thumb Lagoon at Port Kembla. Aaron has a background in education and art and a life-long appreciation of the power of permaculture to make positive change.
“We both shared a vision to create a life-long learning pathway for young people and respond to what was happening in the Illawarra with the environmental, social, cultural and spiritual impact of industry and the port. We found permaculture a positive movement that we could use as a tool to engage communities in a conversation and initiate projects,” Aaron says.
The first school Aaron and Daniel worked with was Cringila Public School.
“BlueScope wanted to invest money in a school that was directly impacted by industry and Cringila was on the site of an artificial coal seam fire, which was created by slag and coal wash that could not be processed by existing technology, We built a garden using permaculture ethics, which are care of earth, care of people and fair share and from there created a program for the children to maintain the garden and become leaders, or Garden Ambassadors, for students coming after them.” Aaron says.
Cringila Public School Living Classroom
The Living Classroom Project took flight.
When a Living Classroom is established in a school it becomes much more than just a garden; it becomes a living environment with systems that balance food production, biodiversity and sustainable natural resource management, while also a social environment where children and the school community can come together to share and learn new skills. Projects include:
- Soil building
- No-dig gardening
- Green Manure
- Chop and Drop (with woodchips to inoculate fungi)
- Food gardens
- Animal systems such as chickens and bees
- Wildlife corridors
- Aquatic systems
- Outdoor kitchens, and
- Spaces for people to gather
Daniel now works with schools across the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane following his relocation to Queensland. Aaron continues to work with schools in the Illawarra including Tarrawanna Public School who participated in Kreative Koalas this year.
“Teaching and learning are so enriched through The Living Classroom Project. Aaron has been leading the way on permaculture gardening for 3 years at Tarrawanna Public School. The lessons develop student understanding not only of permaculture, but also of science, mathematics, history, geography and art. The program runs with our S2 students, but what we find is so many students want to continue with their learning in the following years, they want to come back as mentors and leaders [Garden Ambassadors] to the younger students. Aaron makes an unbelievable connection with the students; his passion ignites and engages the eagerness in the children to want to continue their learning of sustainability,” Kelly Judd, Tarrawanna assistant principal, says.
Garden Beds at Tarrawanna Public School
Food produced in Living Classrooms is prepared for school consumption or taken home to families and communities, which has encouraged backyard gardens, one visible and practical impact of the project. David Lamb, director of Education Leadership, Wollongong Network with the NSW Department of Education sees other impacts.
“The number one impact is engagement; it makes kids want to go to school. Kids that may be disengaged in the normal classroom become champions in the Living Classroom because learning has meaning for them and it is real. It also encourages cross-cultural respect as kids work together in the garden and it taps into caring for the earth and caring for people, which develops compassion and empathy. It is a wonderful, wonderful project,” he says.
The ethos of Kreative Koalas is to enable young people to design a bright future, particularly in the face of challenges such as COVID and climate change. The Living Classroom Project lives by similar aspirations.
“Something as small as composting waste or growing food is about taking the power back. It gives kids hope and an opportunity to be in control and I truly believe young people, who become creative learners through engagement with nature, have the capabilities to lead us to where we need to go,” Aaron concludes.
Action4Agriculture founder Lynne Strong joined Aaron and teacher Mrs Harris at Fairy Meadow Demonstration School to see what a day in the garden looks and feels like for the students
The Living Classroom has been sponsored by BlueScope Steel for 18 years and there are currently 24 schools in the Illawarra region in various stages and sizes with full Living Classrooms at Five Islands Secondary College (year 12 HSC subject in permaculture), Warrawong High School, Cringila Public, Port Kembla Public, Tarrawanna Public, Fairy Meadow Public, St Pats at Port Kembla, Illawarra Sports High and Warrawong Public.
Watch Five Islands secondary College showcased on Gardening Australia here
Permaculture expert and educator Aaron Sorenson shares The Living Classroom design model
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