Sustainable School Awards: students making a difference

A huge congratulations to Nelson Intermediate School (Nelson), Waiheke High School (Auckland) and Waihi Beach School (Waihi) for being named as the recipients of the Sustainable Schools Awards at the 2023 Beautiful Awards. Each of these schools illustrated in their submissions both a commitment to, and the practical implementation of sustainable practices and environmental projects which have enhanced their school and/or community. 

Waiheke High School

Waiheke High School took out a Sustainable Schools Award due to their massive efforts at going green, right across the board. Because any landfill waste produced on Waiheke Island first has to be transported to a local refuse station before being shipped to the mainland on a barge, students were conscious of the large environmental impact of waste. Through research, they found that 57% of their kura’s waste was compostable and a further 17.5% recyclable, giving the school the opportunity to reduce their waste stream by up to 75%. Building a compost system on-site using funding from the School Board and fundraising efforts by students would allow the kura to divert 20 tonnes of waste from landfill annually!

Besides installing and successfully using their compost system, the school also ran an online seminar series for schools nationwide to share their knowledge, and help other communities begin their composting journey. Ultimately, the school looks forward to being able to take in waste from the wider community, and is aiming for 100% of food scraps to be diverted from landfill by 2025.

The students also ran a second-hand clothes swap, creating a sustainable way for students to donate clothes and get fresh new ones all free of charge; have diverted rescued vegetables from landfill into a Sustainable Soup programme; and installed paper waste bins across classrooms to keep easily-recycled paper out of the waste stream. To top it off, students also fundraised for 200 new solar panels for the school, which now generates 37.6% of the school’s electricity requirements.

It’s an impressive journey to self-sufficient sustainability that impressed our judges, and made Waiheke High School a deserving recipient of our Sustainable Schools Award!


Nelson Intermediate

Nelson Intermediate (Te Kura Tūwaenga o Whakatū) is focused on creating a positive mauri ora, or sense of wellness, for all students. Among a range of initiatives, kaitiaki ākonga comes together from each class twice a year to think about their aspirations for enhancing the sustainability of Nelson Intermediate, brainstorming and developing an action plan that moves them closer to their goals.

Each classroom has a kaitiaki (environmental guardian) to support sustainable practices, helping audit classrooms each term to establish how effective they are being at managing and reducing waste in each space of the school. They use this data to inform themselves and other classrooms, helping continually improve their sustainability.

The school planted 75 fruit tress in 2022 plus a range of native plants, with hundreds more to go into the ground. Nelson Intermediate also houses a collection of beehives, giving students an opportunity to view the inner workings of bees as a learning tool as well as an entry point to other ecological topics such as bio-dynamic gardening and plant biology. With a roster that budding beekeepers sign up for, it’s a hands-on subject! The learning continues with an amazing Garden Club that meets weekly and works alongside whānau, community organisations and other classes to support the growth and development of vegetable gardens. 

With a focus on waste reduction, the school implemented other initiatives including a ‘nude food’ campaign with spot prizes each week of a beeswax pouch (designed and detailed by the school); making these beeswax wraps available for new families who come to our school; working to have less plastic and packaging in lunchboxes; and a regular waste audit, with every bin in the school emptied on the front court so everyone can see what they are producing each day, to spur students into action.


Waihi Beach School

Over the last 12 months Waihi Beach School has been committed to environmental projects that support sustainability; they work in partnership with numerous stakeholders including local hapū to achieve the outcomes positively to Keep New Zealand Beautiful. The kura constantly works on furthering its kaupapa which knits sustainability intrinsically with everything they do.

Their ‘Grow the Grove’ programme has helped their tamariki learn how important native trees are to increase greater indigenous biodiversity. The school planted 125 native trees in their grove, and had a further 425 natives donated which the tamariki diligently planted as part of a restoration project celebrating Matariki. In addition, the school has built a seed library, helping the community try traditional gardening, and 24 students are working on designing a cultural māra (garden) of their own, with the Council reserving land for it to be built on.

The tamariki identified that there is a native kororā (Little Blue Penguin) colony at Waipaupau, and set up a predator trapping team with the help of iwi, DoC, Council and the community — leading to the largest single piece of predator control work that Waihī Beach has seen, helping save over 5,000 native birds from predators! They’ve also learned about the highly endangered Northern NZ Dotterel and have designed signage to place around the native bird’s nests across Waihī Beach. 

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