Mahurangi College plans to turn an area of native bush adjacent to the school into a “living classroom”, which will encourage students to take care of the environment and, at the same time, provide learning opportunities across all aspects of the school curriculum.
Students have already been hard at work at the View Road Bush Reserve and Falls Road River Reserve, south of the Mahurangi River.
The school is currently negotiating with Auckland Council to secure access to the bush areas north of the river.
Once this is granted, the school will seek community support to have tracks through the bush and a bridge over the river installed to facilitate student activities.
Board of Trustees chair Dean Iversen says there are about 6.87ha of bush in total, but it is overrun with predators such as rats and possums, and any native seedlings coming through are being smothered by weeds.
So far, students have been split into different groups and have been engaged in eliminating pests, monitoring river water quality, removing invasive weeds and replanting with locally sourced native species.
Former college student Chris Bindon, now a biodiverstiy advisor with Council, has been training students how to recognise and record bird sound, and monitor changes in bird life over time.
Year 13 student Ella Martin, 18, was involved in one of the first bird counts and says data collected now will inform students in later years on how effective their conservation efforts have been in bolstering the native bird population. She adds that bird life is essential for spreading seedlings and regenerating the bush.
But Mr Iversen believes the project has huge implications for student learning beyond conservation.
Instead of Mahurangi students working on a science or maths worksheet that deals with a coal mine in Minnesota or a river in Oklahoma, it could instead deal with a forest that happens to be in their own backyard.
Students will make calculations based on data generated by their own environmental work, such as the amount of rainfall received and the rate of knots the Mahurangi River is flowing.
“The aim is for students to become more observant of what is around them and how important that is to their lives,” he says.
More advanced students are already using data to figure out what the bush would have looked like before people came to Warkworth and how it would have developed without their influence.
Mr Iversen says the project also provides opportunities for cultural learning and the school can draw on the expertise of fellow board member Dr Ihi Heke, an international authority on cultural views of the environment, and the responsibility to take care of it.
Mr Iversen says that students getting out there and working with their hands to better their surroundings will have huge benefits for their mental and physical wellbeing, and he believes the Mahurangi College project could become a template for other schools to follow throughout New Zealand.