Bangkok Patana School prides itself on its longstanding commitment to the environment and it’s constant drive to be more green but how did this culture start within the school and how has it grown. Cross Campus Principal James Penstone sat down with us to tell us more.
How long has Bangkok Patana School had a Student Environmental Committee (SEC)? How it developed over the years and how many students and teachers are involved?
In 2011/12, a former student, Kristie Chow, asked Dr Heddle if we could have a student environment committee. And so the SEC was formed with just a small handful of passionate students, led by Kristie and Daniel Lo, continuing in this way for the next year. They enjoyed a high profile student-led Secondary assembly at the end of 2012/13 when Khun Mechai Viravaidya was invited as a key note speaker and they memorably released hundreds of plastic bottles from the stage rafters to highlight our ongoing plastic consumption.
In 2013/14, the SEC grew slightly to around ten Secondary students. In 2014/15, SEC expanded to around 20 Secondary students, structuring itself into distinct sub-groups and nine Year 6 students started a Primary version of SEC in Term 3. The highlight at the end of this year was our visiting artists-in-residence from Brazil who worked with student groups across the age ranges to produce powerful videos about plastic pollution, including the excellent mini-documentary called ‘Re-plastic’. This gave a lot of momentum to the following year’s focus when Secondary SEC ballooned to around 45 members and 50 Primary students. By now, the structure was maturing into distinct project groups. This year we currently have very similar numbers but we have more staff members supporting the students than ever before – there are 18 committed staff supporting the students now. We expect SEC numbers to grow some more after our coming assemblies in February.
The Primary SEC meet every Thursday lunchtime, and Secondary every Tuesday lunchtime. We take an action-research approach, researching solutions and making connections with key people to make them happen. There are equivalent project groups in each of the two SECs, and from time to time, they visit each other to share ways forwards.
What is the mission of the SEC?
The phrase ‘What Are your Small Steps?’ was first emphasised two years ago as a way of shortening the Mission and inviting all in the community to play their part.
To me student environmental committee is very important because we encourage people in our community to become more aware of the natural world and global warming issues. As a community we take each small step, like a stepping stone to a closer and bigger aim which is to help sustain our environment. Lita, 9C
What projects and campaigns has the SEC implemented and what would you say is the greatest success?
We’ve had some great projects, here are some successful SEC ‘Small Steps’ to date:
- Recycled Exercise Books introduced across both schools for last three years
- Heavily Subsidised Reusable Water Bottles on sale at school thanks to former PTG funds
- The high profile ‘Waste Less Week’ in June 2016 and the resulting reduction of plastic wrapping in the snack bars
- New Recycling Facility designed and promoted by students, funded by Annual Fund, due for official launch after the half term break
- The Community Garden – proposed by two students, now in its second full year, and this has had students from both Primary and Secondary working on it
- ‘Greenest Vendor’ Award – takes place at Ploenchit Fair, International Day and Fun Day in which SEC award a certificate to the most sustainable stall
- Fun Run Changes – far less single-use plastic this year with the promotion of reusable bottles and SEC sponsored biodegradable water cups
- Residential T-Shirts delivered without plastic wrapping at the SECs request
- Good links with PTG on Fun Day, International Day, etc.
- Primary School adopting reusable plastic cups / bottles in many classes
- Removal of plastic straws from the canteens.
I would have to say that for me, the greatest success is the increased environmental awareness across the school. SEC have been plugging away at key environmental messages through meetings with key people, assemblies, and events. The community is now much more alert to issues surrounding sustainability, particularly the problems of disposable plastic packaging highlighted in the last two years. The conversation about small steps has really taken off across the school and there are now far more small steps being taken here at Patana as a result. Visiting speakers such as Emily Penn have helped, but it is the determination and commitment of the students that has really paid off. We believe the school’s culture has changed to one that is much more conscious of and receptive to environmental messages than was the case six or seven years ago.
What does the SEC have planned for the future?
Ultimately, we will apply for Green Flag Status (an initiative led by EcoSchools in the UK), but we are determined to do so only once we as a school have established lasting and widespread solutions to environmental issues here at Bangkok Patana.
We will continue our focus on reducing our plastic footprint and are set to reduce single-use plastic consumption even more across our snack bars, shops and events.
We now have a major focus on Energy (reviving an earlier project from the first few years of SEC). This links importantly to why Bangkok Patana 2041 important for the SEC.
Bangkok Patana 2041 is an excellent way of driving the key messages about energy reduction as a major way of limiting our carbon footprint. Robert Swan’s visit was so inspiring for us all, and the forthcoming expedition by Rebecca and Helen is making his message all the more real. Rebecca is a key member of the SEC’s Energy Group, and will continue to serve on this group after she returns from Antarctica. We are looking for two main ways forwards for the school; 1) We are proposing more solar energy solutions within the school over the coming years and 2) We will work hard to encourage all community members to limit unnecessary energy consumption such as turning off AC when not needed. For example, the Primary SEC students have recently been designing mini-posters reminding us all to turn the AC off when we vacate the classrooms, and these bear the logos of both SEC and Bangkok Patana 2041.
Bangkok Patana 2041 brings the reasons we should reduce our carbon footprint vividly to life for all of us, and is an excellent way to engage with the issue while contributing to the global initiative led by Robert Swan.
Wow, we have some very passionate students in our midst. Thanks to James for chatting with us, remember to keep your eyes peeled around school for initiatives from our amazing SEC and please get involved!