Compost classes let children enjoy food in a new way

This rentrée will see some pupils adding a green topic to the timetable as part of projects to make schools more environmentally friendly.

30 August 2017
By Jane Hanks

Across France 2,200 primary schools, collèges and lycées have joined a global Eco-Schools programme involving 16million children in 64 countries, the world’s largest environmental schools programme.

It was launched in 1994 in response to the 1992 UN Rio Earth Summit and is organised by the Foundation for Environmental Education, better known for running the Blue Flag scheme certifying beaches with clean bathing water and good facilities.

Schools signing up are helped to go greener, which can be in small ways like turning off lights but also in dealing with waste and using less water.

If they are successful they may be officially labelled an Eco-Ecole.

Raguidelles primary school in the Paris suburb of Suresnes, Essonne, was proud to win the label for having 12 gardens and using vegetables grown by pupils in them for the school canteen. It has 16 classes and 420 pupils and aims to continue its work this year by making ‘food’ its theme for the rentrée.

It has had the gardens for 10 years and teacher Caroline Rouzé said a waste project – where they turned food waste into compost – was “fantastic as an educational tool”.

Mrs Rouzé said the children quickly learnt they could do a great deal more: “We chose waste as our theme and introduced a recycling scheme in all the classrooms. Children weighed the different amounts of rubbish collected every week and marked it up on the blackboard and the statistics were kept and analysed.

“In the canteen, delegates were chosen to collect all the food waste and turn it into compost.”

They were amazed at the big piles of compost they began to collect.

“There was so much that we simply made up piles on hard ground we couldn’t dig and after it had rotted down, we planted directly into the compost. The children were able to see the decomposition of the matter in front of their eyes and they then saw the difference in the quality of the vegetables we were then able to grow.

She said the children were very enthusiastic. “When I told them we didn’t sort rubbish when we were at school they were horrified and made sure that we, the adults, make up for it now by doing it properly.

“It has been a wonderful experience because it takes the pupils out of the usual classroom context and puts all children on the same level, whether they get good marks academically or not. I was really surprised how the children responded.

“They were dynamic, well organised and even invented songs about what they were doing.

“The school is full of exhibitions created by the children on the subject of the environment.”

Working on the waste project in the canteen led the children to decide they could take action so as to eat better and throw away less, hence this rentrée’s ‘food’ theme.

Mrs Rouzé added: “I hope lots of other schools will join us to become Eco-Schools. The children are our future and we need them to preserve our beautiful planet.”

There are seven steps to becoming  an Eco-Ecole with teachers, pupils, other school staff, parents, and local councillors first forming an eco committee to get started.

They carry out a review to look at the environmental issues in their establishment and pick a theme for the year from seven key topics: biodiversity and nature, energy, water, waste, solidarity, health and food.

The efforts made, which could be, for example, reducing energy bills by making sure everyone turns off the light when it is not needed and installing energy saving bulbs, are measured and evaluated.

Teachers include the theme in their lesson plans and the project tries to involve as many people as possible within the school and to work in the community as well.

At the end of the year the programme is reviewed and the school can apply for the label.

The person in charge of the programme for France, Stéphanie Beney, said: “We would like to see a lot more schools, collèges and lycées joining the scheme as it is not just good for the environment but also for the pupils themselves.

“A study looking at 300 schools found the pupils benefit from working with children from other classes and from working on a project.

“They learn new skills and are proud of their achievements, particularly when they lead to articles in the local newspaper.

“It is also very, very important to inform young citizens about the environment so they can carry on good practices in later life.

“A school is a good place to start because it is a small eco-system where people eat, use heating, lighting, water, create waste and have an outside space they are responsible for.

“Hopefully it means the children will become active citizens, responsible for the world they live in when they are older.”

Projects the schools undertake are often practical and have included creating a garden, introducing a recycling scheme, changing food suppliers in the canteen so they are local, and measuring the amount of water flushed in a toilet – and putting a bottle in the cistern to use less.

Parents and teachers can find out more about it at eco-ecole.org and any school, lycée or collège can take part in the scheme.

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