When you see an exuberance of teens whizzing through the forest on their bikes, you might be forgiven for assuming the worst. But if you’re in Whipstick Forest in Greater Bendigo National Park, you might also be in for a surprise; the teens are cleaning up the forest.
“The Whipstick Forest is littered with household rubbish, takeaway packaging and hard rubbish like mattresses, old television sets and car parts,” explained Meredith Fettling, Assistant Principal at Bendigo Senior Secondary College.
“With funding from Sustainability Victoria, we had 60 VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning) students working with Conservation Volunteers Bendigo, Parks Victoria and the Environment Protection Authority Victoria to come up with ways to combat littering in the forest and educate the greater community to prevent the spread of rubbish in our national parks.”
“Students need to feel empowered to bring about change and believe they can make a difference,” explained Meredith. “Student ownership and choice was critical to this project. We didn’t want to tell them what to do; we wanted them to take ownership of the problem and work together on solutions to prevent littering in the future.
“The project needed to be flexible enough to include what students saw as important, but also to allow for diverse opinions and options, so students could do what interested them and still contribute to the overall group project.
“We started with a conference with our project partners. We talked about what these partners already do to look after the environment and ways for students to direct their own forest project.
“At the conference, students watched the film A Plastic Ocean. Seeing the scope of this global issue really lit a fire. We were surprised by how much it motivated the students to get involved.
“Next, we got students outside to see the scale of the problem. Students were astounded to see how much rubbish was in the forest. One student commented that “It’s disgusting how much is dumped. Sometimes it is large and costs the government large amounts of money to clean up.”
The students then chose to participate in rubbish surveys by foot, bike or vehicle; tree planting or visiting the local Eaglehawk Recycle Centre to see alternatives to dumping. The project partners helped run the days, while students had input into organising communal food, activities and developing ways to share their learning with the local community.
The students decided to organise a clean-up of the Jobs Gully area, collecting 70 kilograms of rubbish. They ran a guess-the-weight competition at the school, before sorting, recycling and disposing of the waste.
“We recorded our activities and reflections from students to make a short film at the end of the project. Documenting our journey was a powerful tool,” said Meredith. “Students felt part of something special and empowered to make a difference. Seeing themselves profiled on local television was a massive highlight.”
The students chose to organise a community event at the La Trobe Art Institute to promote the project and publicly thank the partners. Students took on many different roles from organising catering and the event program to publicising the event and speaking to the media.
“It was a great opportunity for these students to shine and show their leadership potential,” said Meredith. “For many of these students, school has not always been an enjoyable place and they rarely received genuine and well-deserved accolades. On this night, they were acknowledged for their contribution and received a certificate in front of many distinguished guests and their families.”
The VCAL Litter Innovation Program film was shown at the final event.
“This project was so much more engaging than sitting in a classroom,” added Meredith. “It builds all the skills we look for in the VCAL program – literacy, numeracy, personal development and work-related skills. It also brought staff and students together as a culturally inclusive team and includes our newly arrived refugee background students as a part of their English as an Additional Language program.
“Funding from Sustainability Victoria was a major enabler for this project. We needed to fund staff-time and expertise from Conservation Volunteers. We also paid for student transport, food prepared by students for outings and venue hire for our community event. Our school budget can rarely accommodate these kinds of activities."
“The project had everyone talking about how we can keep running these kinds of projects in the future and Conservation Volunteers Bendigo and Parks Victoria are keen to be involved.
“The project model has since been adopted for a range of other integrated projects. However, we will work with smaller groups of students to make the logistics and paperwork easier to manage.”
Contact Meredith Fettling, Assistant Principal at Bendigo Senior Secondary College on (03) 5443 1222 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Most of this rubbish could be placed in your basic rubbish, recycling and organic bins at home. The rubbish could have been dumped illegally for many reasons, but the most likely reason is that people don’t know how much it’ll cost them to go to the tip.
Cody, VCAL student at Bendigo Senior Secondary College