Helping ‘left behind’ children to learn
By Alison Broady,
In 2022, I was fortunate to be awarded an Action Fund grant from the Churchill Fellowship, this helped to initiate an environmental project at the school where I teach, Northfleet Technology College in Kent.
"In the past 12 months, we have planted more than 1,200 trees suited to traditional hedging such as blackthorn, dogwood and hazel. This required a great deal of preparation, with the whole school contributing to clearance and groundworks."
The primary aim of the project was to restore a nearby nature reserve and to build a closer connection to the natural environment for our students.
This was a post-Covid derived purpose, addressing the needs of rebuilding social and communication skills for young people and adults. The framework we used for the project was to find the answers to questions about what flora and fauna was present on the two-acre nature reserve next to our school. To answer the questions, we needed to work as a team, sharing tasks and planning how we would capture the data with which to answer our questions.
A major part of our plan was to capture evidence of the fauna in our reserve. This is achieved through the array of ten wildlife cameras we have on site. Through these, the students found out, amongst other things, that we have woodpeckers, jays, hedgehogs and a range of other elusive creatures in our midst. The images and videos from the cameras are reported in a dedicated website https://ntcnature.blogspot.com/.
A perennial favourite is the footage of our fox families. As well as being enthralling, this has also provided our students with an answer to the question: ‘how healthy is our reserve?’ So, with at least two sets of ‘apex’ or top predators in the space, the answer is we have a pretty healthy site. The students involvement in the project included planning where the cameras were sited, their installation and then monitoring and editing the footage.
From establishing that the site is healthy, we then explored how we might contribute to biodiversity and contribute to the reversal of climate damage. With a fenced perimeter area of around 170 metres, it was agreed that creating a wooded hedge would encourage a greater range of fauna. In the past 12 months, we have planted more than 1,200 trees suited to traditional hedging such as blackthorn, dogwood and hazel. This required a great deal of preparation, with the whole school contributing to clearance and groundworks. In a number of episodes during the year, several hundred students became involved. To our delight, we uncovered small orchards of cherries, apples and pears. These have been increased in size.
Not to stretch the point, but these episodes really do put students in touch with the natural world. They worked as a group on tasks such as ground clearance, ground preparation, planting and maintenance. These are not activities many would ordinarily have the opportunity to engage in. Students learnt much about soil, arboriculture all the while in collaboration with each other, making decisions about how and who would work on the range of tasks.
During this time, it also became clear that the space available was a valuable resource for a much wider community. Based in an urbanised, densely populated area, our local primary schools lack green space so we have been sharing the resource with them. We agreed that sharing the message with other schools would contribute to the climate change message and our students really engaged, putting themselves forward to volunteer at all levels.
Our students act as mentors to the much younger students - helping them to plant on our site, as well as using the space to explore our bird boxes, bug hotels and camera locations. To embed the message, primary schools took part in our ‘plant one, take one’ initiative. At the end of their day with us, schools are provided with a box of trees which can be taken back to their sites or planted in home gardens. This has created a much closer relationship which we are looking forward to developing further.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.
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