BY the time Makaraka School students put in their latest application for a grant from the Enviroschools Eastland Port Action Fund, they had put a huge effort into earning it.

The school has in previous years accessed the fund to help create a native garden and story board to share the history of Makaraka and its people.

But when students spotted a problem with the adjacent bike track that winds its way through the school grounds, they decided to use Enviroschools concepts and processes to find a solution.

“Every year we ask students to identify an issue that they can work to address across a big range of learning opportunities,” says Makaraka’s Enviroschools lead teacher Mihi Hannah.

“In this case they noted that there was a challenging spot on the bike track that could be improved with the installation of an illuminated sign. Then they got stuck in, using their classroom work on alternative energy to work out how that could be done.”

The resulting application requested funding for a sign lit entirely with the use of solar energy.

“So to articulate their idea the students had to do a lot of inquiry across subjects from maths and science to environmental studies and English,” Mihi says.

To make sure they were on the right track the students went to Mind Lab to carry out extra research; learned about solar circuitry; and designed their own prototype.

“It tied in with the work they were doing about renewable energy and they managed to turn all that thinking from theory into practice . . . they did an amazing job.”

With its fleet of 50 bikes and extensive Bikes In Schools-funded pathways, cycling is a big deal at Makaraka so the Enviroschools sign project benefits the whole school, she adds.

Not adverse to jumping on a bike himself, Makaraka principal Hayden Swann says nurturing the environment with things like plantings and recycling are ideals woven into the school’s everyday practice.

“The Enviroschools concept encompasses everything from cultural identity to caring for our surroundings so it’s very important to us,” he says.

“It helps keep our students interested and engaged as they have context, meaning and purpose in their learning.”

Caption: Enviroschools lead teacher at Makaraka, Mihi Hannah has supported her students in researching and designing an illuminated safety sign powered entirely by solar energy. Ten-year-old cyclist Tayla Thompson whizzes past as she makes use of the cycling pathway.  Image: Brennan Thomas Strike Photography