How an Irish nonprofit is helping kids be green

Leprechauns. Frothy mugs of green beer. Four-leaf clovers. Whether you celebrate it or not, these are likely the first images that pop in your head when you think of St. Patrick’s Day. But these universal symbols for the Irish holiday aren’t the only green products Ireland has to offer.

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Two boys create a completed circuit in Rediscovery Centre course on green energy.

Green businesses have grown in Ireland over the past few years. From small-scale organic farming programs to larger businesses manufacturing new wind power technology, environmentally sustainable projects in Ireland are both diverse and original.

One nonprofit in particular, Eastern Ireland’s Rediscovery Centre, has geared its environmental efforts towards the next generation of green thinkers by bringing waste reduction and sustainability tools into the classroom by partnering with teachers in schools across the region. Fortunately, the Irish government encourages primary schools teach a certain amount of classes focused on waste reduction and biodiversity through its Green Schools Program.

And it’s anything but dull. With sessions spent constructing terrariums or cooking with a homemade solar ovens, the center’s staff know how to make environmental education captivating for a range of ages. And based on student and teacher surveys that praise their alternative style of education, their method is working.

But it wasn’t always a breeze.

When the Rediscovery Centre first created its education program (it also serves as a store for recycled paint, restored furniture and eco products) in 2006, the staff had a simple framework for its classes—but needed in-class experience to truly understand what its students needed.

“It’s always been easier with the primary schools. They love the hands-on learning style and are willing to learn,” says Tara Singleton, manager of research and education at the organization. “But once the students get older, they’re sometimes too cool for school. They are more stubborn.”

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Students learn the ins and outs of recycling with a life-size Chutes and Ladders board game.

So her staff has to modify each lesson by age group, making the topic something both relatable and appealing to the students. The program’s Executive Manager, Sarah Miller, adds that education disparities within an age group can even create issue within a classroom.

“Some schools have engaged in quite comprehensive environmental awareness raising before they book a workshop, whereas others haven’t,” she says. “In order to deal with this we have developed a range of workshop activities and additional teaching aids.”

Working with teachers, who best know how the individual students work in a school setting, tends to be the quickest way to plan a lesson.

“It really depends on the teacher,” Singleton says. “Some are really welcoming to our program, and want to help us make our class work for their students, but others don’t seek us out.”

Which is another battle altogether. How does the staff make their resources attractive to public school teachers?

With classes based solely on these topics, the center has no trouble winning teachers over. For secondary classrooms, however, staff has to work harder to align its classes with topics covered in the school courses.

“We try to pair science and geography lessons up with our classes, but it’s not as simple as with the younger grades,” she says. “There’s less incentive there.”

But by dealing with these obstacles from the get-go, the center has been able to secure its roots in the surrounding community.

“We often get calls from delighted schools that have used our lessons throughout the school year,” says Singleton. “They say ‘look what we’ve done!’ Sure, it’s a hard slog to start up something like, but the interest is there. It’s worth it!”

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 Want to learn more about how to engage children in learning about sustainability and the environment? Feel free to contact Tara Singleton at tara@rediscoverycentre.ie and Sarah Miller at sarah@rediscoverycentre.ie.

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Comments (2)


  1. Tracy writes:
    March 17, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Leprechauns and green beer? Imagine a story on a US nonprofit that opened with “cowboys and McDonald’s.” Just because most Americans know little about Ireland beyond tired stereotypes doesn’t make this okay — not to mention that green beer and a lot of St. Patrick’s Day hoopla is Irish American. Go ahead and feature Irish nonprofits like this one, but let their work stand on its own. I expect better from Idealist, including some cultural sensitivity.


  2. Alex Zielinski writes:
    March 20, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Tracy, we agree that the stereotyping of Irish culture is a negative part of our culture, that’s why we decided to highlight a smart Irish nonprofit this St. Patrick’s Day rather than perpetuating this cliched tradition. Here’s to refocusing the holiday!


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