Students from Macksville High School's Grassroots sustainability group stand outdoors smiling at camera with their teacher and community gardens coordinator.

Macksville High School’s Grassroots sustainability group with teacher Aaron Parker and Macksville Community Gardens Coordinator Gary Hallinan.

Throughout term 1, some dedicated and passionate planet warriors from Macksville High School teamed up each week to learn about environmental issues and carry out sustainability initiatives.  

The Grassroots sustainability group, led by teacher Aaron Parker, did activities including film screenings, energy audits, a community garden visit and plant propagation, river water testing, planting sessions of flowering natives and fruit trees, and building and installing bird and animal boxes to encourage biodiversity. 

The students are mostly in year 10, with some in year 9. They recognised people’s impact on our planet and chose to do something about it.  

Each student had different reasons for joining the program. 

Claire, 15yo, says, “The Grassroots group aims to make the school more environmentally active and help our environment as a whole. The environment and sustainability are very important to me because they impact my future.” 

Bella, 15yo, says she joined “to make a difference in our community and school and to better my future. I feel like sustainability is important in all our lives and for my future family”. 

Grace, 16yo, wants to make “the world a little more sustainable because I love and care about our environment”. 

Amali, 15yo, joined “to improve Macksville High and try to save the planet. I want to preserve the Earth so it can live on”. 

Layla, 15yo, says she “wants to make the environment and Earth stay healthy and safe for people and animals”. 

The sustainability activities were agreed on by the students and Mr Parker together and were designed to be educational, hands-on, and practical.  

Early on, the group did a carbon footprint audit on their school and made some important changes. They installed power-saving devices and hot water timers that will lead to saving over $5000 in power each year.  

With guidance from Gary Hallinan, Macksville Community Gardens coordinator, the group learned about plant propagation and its role in reducing waste and conserving resources. Bursts of heavy rain didn’t dampen the group’s spirits or the number of questions for Gary! Students were eager to get their hands dirty and propagate rosemary, sage and salvia plants.  

On a beautiful sunny day by the Nambucca River, it was time to dive into water testing for microplastics. John McQueen from Cascade Environmental Education Centre ran the workshop and taught the group the effect of microplastics on the environment and our health. We’re thrilled that the group found almost no microplastics in the river but did find a happy dolphin swimming by enjoying the clean water.  

The group also installed an owl nesting box, microbat box, and bug boxes in safe locations to promote biodiversity at the school. 

There are more great activities planned. The group want to concentrate on waste reduction and recycling. They will install and promote a permanent can and bottle bin and regularly take the cans and bottles to the local Return and Earn station. They will also improve signage and install a second bike rack to encourage cycling as transport.

They hope to be involved in the Scotts Head cultural burn of the headland proposed for mid-2023.  

Mr Parker says he was inspired by the Gumbaynggirr culture quote, “When we respect the Country it will look after us,” to start the Grassroots program. 

“The aim [was] inspiring others to act towards creating a more sustainable environment by looking after Country.  

“I believe that small and easy changes made by many people can have a huge impact.  

“Throughout the program, the students have gained confidence, leadership skills, and a sense of empowerment to positively impact the environment.  

“It’s amazing to see them go from being passive observers to active participants in creating a sustainable future. It’s also heartwarming to see them supporting each other and taking pride in their contributions. 

The students made changes at home and have future sustainability goals. 

Ruby, 15yo, enjoyed the bird box activity the most and created a garden at home. Of the experience, she says, “It was pretty cool. I will try and live plastic free”. 

Claire also created a garden and planted cuttings from the propagation workshop. She hopes to study zoology or zookeeping after school. 

Jasmin, 15yo, wants to study zoology too. She liked the river testing activity and learned “there is a lot of plastic in the oceans. Sustainability is important to preserve the future”. 

Amali was also surprised to see “just how much plastic there really is lying around. I’ve planted more plants and am taking care of them more. I am trying to use less plastic”. 

During the program, Grace discovered more “about fossil fuels and how much of an impact they have on climate change. I started a garden with the plants I grew, and I will educate more people about our environment”. 

Mia, 15yo, joined “because I wanted to learn about nature and to try and save the planet and money. It was a great experience, very fun, and I’ve learned how to be sustainable and the changes to make. I loved cleaning up at the river because I saw a dolphin!” 

Mr Parker is impressed with the efforts and attitude of everyone in the Grassroots group.  

“It’s been an amazing experience working with these young people who not only care about the environment but are also great human beings. They have shown compassion, empathy, and dedication towards their cause, and it’s been a privilege to work alongside them.  

“Seeing them grow and develop throughout the program has been incredibly rewarding, and we have no doubt that they will continue to positively impact the world around them. 

Thank you to all members of the Grassroots sustainability group and Mr Parker for acting to make ours a cleaner and longer-lasting world and for working hard to help and protect our planet and all its inhabitants.

With this passionate group of young people, we know our future is in excellent – and sometimes muddy – hands.  

Becoming U is proud to support the Grassroots sustainability group by buying hats, protective wear, tools, and promoting their activities. 

Take a look at the Grassroots group in action in the gallery below.

Author: Simone Atallah

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