200 environmentally aware school students from around New Zealand gathered for the first annual Enviroschools Youth Jam in Rotorua recently for 'Youth teaching Youth' event that represents a milestone in the development of the Enviroschools program. What began as a small local environmental education initiative with the Hamilton City Council in 1993 has grown rapidly into a nation-wide program supported by the New Zealand government.
Enviroschools was created with the goal of integrating environmental action throughout the school system rather than as an isolated subject area. Since it became a nationwide program in 2001, over 19 percent of New Zealand schools have joined the movement and follow its programs.
As an organization, the Enviroschools Foundation is involved with environmental education at a strategic level as well as with classroom activities and events like the Youth Jam. programs focus on informal learning and student-initiated transformation of their own school and communities.
Te Rawhitiroa Bosch, Enviroschools Youth Coordinator explained that the intention of Youth Jam was to "get students buzzing off each other, to realise how much knowledge they actually have and what actions they can take, back in their own schools."
"The event was called a 'Jam' because it involves improvisation, collaboration and all students bringing together their own offerings to create something awesome."
The students aged between 12 and 17 years, ran workshops for each other, planted trees at a local re-vegetation project, and met with influential business and government figures. Attending guests included Al Morrison (Director General Department of Conservation), Nandor Tancos (NZ Green Party MP), Justin Ford-Robertson (FRInitiatives), Enviroschools Kaumatua (appointed elder leader) Wiremu Tawhai (Te Whanau-a-Apanui), Arron Wood (Australian consultancy Firestarter), and Heidi Mardon (Director of Enviroschools).
"One of the key things to understand about Enviroschools is that learning will be much richer and more relevant when it results in action," says Te Rawhitiroa. "We want these schools to go out and present this material and take action in their own communities."
Students were treated to performances by 'Soul Speed Dance Theatre Troupe,' the 'Cornerstone Roots' band and actor Antonio Te Maioha. Each group provided examples of creative and appealing ways of presenting an environmental and social message.
As a guest at the event it was difficult to know what was more inspiring; seeing the vision of Enviroschools coming to fruition, or seeing the character and commitment of the students sharing the projects and local initiatives they had created in their communities.
An important special aspect of the Youth Jam was the integration of Maori and indigenous perspectives into the design of Youth Jam. The event began with a powhiri (formal welcome) to that part of the country by the local hapu (sub-tribal group) at their marae (meeting place). During the Jam, students met in small groups that explored aspects of Maori culture and stories, supported in this by Enviroschools Kaumatua Wiremu Tawhai. As one student said to me, "it is great to be actually exploring Maori culture rather than just talking about it."
The event is hailed as a success for students, teachers and the Enviroschools team and is planned to run again in 2008.