‘Living classroom’ nurtures young minds

03 May, 2023
‘Living classroom’ nurtures young minds
Group photo of members of Whakatupu Aotearoa Foundation, Tax Management NZ, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, the Vice-Chancellor's Office and the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences.

AUT has received a gift from Whakatupu Aotearoa Foundation (WAF) to support a transformational environmental education experience for young people that inspires positive and enduring awareness of environmental restoration in action.

Called the Learning from Nature programme, it builds on the success of AUT’s Living Laboratories programme, where staff and students undertook research while working with mana whenua on the restoration of former ecological sites.

The new programme will see these restoration sites not only used as ‘laboratories’ for research but also extend to be ‘classrooms’ for rangatahi (young people), school students and community groups to catalyse educational opportunities in repairing nature, enhancing resilience and engaging with mātauranga Māori.

Whakatupu Aotearoa Foundation is gifting $158,500 to support the initial stage of the project, which includes designing, scoping, piloting, and testing the programme.

Funding will also support the development of an Educators Toolkit to be used as educational material with possible use in school curriculums throughout the country.

Project Operations Manager and Research Officer Jeff Silby says, “Each site is a valuable educational resource, where people can learn about native restoration and even contribute to research through citizen science”.

The first ‘living laboratory’ site was established in 2019 at Pourewa supporting Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, followed by two additional restoration sights at Te Muri Regional Park and Pūkorokoro/Miranda.

Whakatupu Aotearoa Foundation’s Chief Executive Carl Vink says the gift is part of the Foundation’s aim of nurturing and educating young people to connect with and care for their environment.

“A key aspiration for us is to foster and encourage the development of a well-formed perspective on climate change in rangatahi, inspiring them to take action,” says Carl.

260 primary students and community group members have visited the Pourewa site to date.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Damon Salesa says the partnership is a welcomed gift and will support AUT in creating exceptional and sustainable learning experiences for students.

“The Learning from Nature programme aligns with AUT’s sustainability vision to 2025 which focuses on three core values of wellbeing, viable futures and connectivity,” he says.

Dr David Hall was instrumental in the project and says, “as we've seen from recent flooding events in Auckland, it is critical for us to expand the ecological imagination of young people, to teach new skills in regeneration and restoration.

Nature-based solutions, like reforestation, remain some of the most cost-effective ways to manage the impacts of extreme rain events,” says David.