Students at St Mary’s Catholic Primary Georges Hall have taken to the PIRATES program like ships to water.

The environmental initiative – ‘PIRATES’ stands for Peers Interested in Responsible Action Towards Environmental Sustainability – is an extension of the school’s previous gardening activities, which began with a local council gift of a worm farm and single garden bed.

The school now has 15 garden beds to tend. These have grown vegetables that have won first and second prizes at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, and students have harvested and sold them to parents to fund the purchase of more seedlings for the garden.

The students have learnt about all aspects of garden care including companion planting to encourage plant growth and make use of natural insecticides under the guidance of garden co-ordinator Antonina Fieni.

“The students are naturally inquisitive about the outdoors,” she said. “They love to come out here and get their hands dirty, and they love knowing about plants.

“The main thing we are trying to teach them is how to make these gardens sustainable. If Year 6 pass on all the knowledge they have learnt about the garden to Year 5 at the end of the year, it becomes sustainable.”

It is mostly about having fun and looking after our garden.

– Azeeb Bashour

The garden includes rainbow chard, lemongrass, celery, snow peas, marigolds to repel caterpillars, sunflowers, beetroot, broad beans, cos lettuce, thyme and flowers to attract stingless native bees to help pollenate the plants.

The garden supports Mathematics learning with students asked to measure the distance between herbs and vegetables when planting seedlings. There is also the opportunity that test the Ph level of the garden’s soil with Science experiments, and for students to learn to cook simple meals with fresh ingredients.

Year 6 students Hannah Coatee, Keira Pooley and Azeeb Bashour said the grade spent about eight hours at the beginning of the year to get the gardens flourishing again after the school holiday break.

“We take care of the gardens,” Hannah said. “The Kindergartens are usually having fun here, so we let them pick some of the tomatoes and eat them. They really like them, but we have to teach them not to rip them all off.”

Keira said how to water the plants and take care of seedlings were some of the things PIRATES learnt. “It can teach others to make their garden sustainable as well,” she said.

Azeeb said the best part about the program was that it provided a balance of fun and learning.

“It is mostly about having fun and looking after our garden,” he said.

“We sometimes sell the vegetables to raise money to buy seedlings. Parents buy them to eat and for their own garden as well. It’s more organic.”


This article was originally published on About Catholic Schools on 2 March 2018.