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Waterford News & Star, July 14th. 2000
Portlaw Students Keeping Up Appearances As Green Flag Environmental Crusaders!
By Jennifer Long
IT'S not everyday that an international recognition is awarded, but the hard working pupils of Portlaw National School have taken it all in their stride. The proud young students, who have just started their summer holidays, were recently bestowed the honour of a European Green Flag award for their dedicated efforts in turning, their school into one of the most environmentally conscious in the country.
The Green Flag co-ordinated in Ireland by An Taisce and the equivalent of the well-recognised Blue Flag is awarded to schools in acknowledgement of their efforts in the areas of litter control and waste management.
Portlaw National School is one of only twenty-three Irish schools to be given the Green Flag since the Green Schools' scheme was introduced here two years ago. The scheme aims to help young students recognise the importance of environmental issues by offering them a controlled space to take such issues and apply them to the day-to-day running of their school.
The presentation of the Green Flag was made to the deserving pupils of Portlaw National School by the then Chairman of Waterford County Council Cllr. Patsy Kenneally before a host of distinguished pupils, guests, teachers and parents. It was a day according to Principal Michael Curran that was "memorable" and "wonderful for all involved" and surely one that will be long remembered in the school's history. In order to qualify for the award, the environmentally conscious students submitted an application for Green School status to An Taisce, on invitation from Waterford County Council. They then had a year to prepare themselves before an official inspection of the school took place. An action plan was proposed by the school, posted on a notice board for all to see, resulting in, a large number of projects being undertaken by the students themselves to put their school streets ahead of others in environmental consciousness.
However, the rewards did not come easy as and achieving such a high goal as the European Green Flag Award required a continuous and stringent effort on the part of the whole school.
It was thus decided that a committee be formed, consisting of teachers, parents and pupils, and which focussed on ways to reduce the volume of waste in the school, and to make the school grounds litter free. A compost corner was designated on the school ground where grass cuttings, leftover lunches etc. were left to decompose. A second bin was placed in all classrooms solely for paper and with three paper presses the large volume of paper was made into paper logs that kept fires burning around Portlaw for quite some time.
MISSION TO COLLECT
A successful Christmas Card recycling scheme was also introduced by the steely students whereby they embarked on a mission to collect old Christmas Cards which were recycled in conjunction with Boots Chemist here in Waterford. Over 17,000 drink cans were also recycled in the school through-out the year, brought in from not only the students own homes but contributed from the local pubs as well, making the whole project a community effort as well. The students also initiated a planting scheme whereby trees, flowers, trees and shrubs were planted throughout the school grounds enhancing the overall physical appearance of the town's relatively-new school building. In addition to all this, school litter wardens were introduced, guest speakers were brought in talking to the children about the importance of respecting their environment, and energy conservation was encouraged e.g. turning off lights in unoccupied rooms, photocopying on both sides of sheets etc. Significantly, the school also became the first Irish school to feature on the Eco Schools website. For the children, the various project that they undertook in their bid to become a Green School equipped them with valuable lessons about respecting their environment that, hopefully, according to Michael Curran, will stay with them in their later lives.
"I would never have considered myself an Eco-warrior or anything like that," the proud principal told the Waterford News & Star, "but I do think that it is very important that we are more conscious of environmental issues."
"To raise that awareness 1 think we need to start as young as we can. Every child from Junior Infants up to Sixth class was involved in the effort and all of them learned so much from it. Even for those who are not the strongest academically, our Green Schools project gave them the opportunity to display their talents in other areas."
"Not only has the school benefited from what the children have contributed to it with all their hard work, but the children have also been taught valuable lessons in showing the necessary respect for the environment."
Indeed, the National School's outstanding success in the Green School's scheme can be seen not only as a boost for the school, but as a boost for the whole community of Portlaw itself which is, in a sense, still recovering from the social and economic blow dealt to it by the closure of its famous Tannery fifteen years ago.
However, the international recognition of Portlaw National School's efforts plain for all to see from the Green Flag flying high at the front of the building should in no small way help bring about a new pride in the town.
More importantly, in a wider context, it can serve as an example to all of us about the rewards that can be reaped with some hard work and consistent effort.
Following on from their success of achieving. Green School status, the school have dedicated space on their website to the Green Schools Project and, consequently, have established links with a number of other schools especially in the UK who have also achieved Green School status. For the Portlaw National School pupils, however, the work goes on and they remain busy keeping the school at the standard that has earned them such high acclaim in the environmental field. They may be flying an international flag but they' cannot let that fact go too much to their heads ... they now have their impressive reputation as environmental crusaders to maintain!
Jennifer is a past pupil of the school and I would like to thank her for allowing us to publish her work on the school web site