What is a tree worth to your school community?

Your school, your values

What a school places value on can say a lot of about the culture and community of that school. How much you value trees and the environment is about more than being a tree hugger or hippie.

It’s the time of year, in Australia and New Zealand, when everything in school just seems to get busier and busier. Exams are done and dusted. Transition to the next year level will be happening soon. Teachers and students are gearing up for end-of-year performances. And administrators are working hard to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on the school year.

In the US, UK, Canada and the other countries where schools use ParentPaperwork the school year isn’t ending but the calendar year is. Students and teachers attention is moving towards Christmas and/or the holidays and spending time with family and friends.

For those in the southern climes, the focus in December is around back to school and being ready administratively for the new school year.

In the midst of all this rush and bustle, it’s good to take a step back and ask yourself what the values driving your school will be in 2017?

So many schools we reach out to still use antiquated processes, particularly when dealing with governance and compliance matters that could all be dealt with in a much more organised, efficient and effective way by using an online platform like ParentPaperwork.

Costs of the old way can be hidden from view

And continuing to do things the old way has hidden costs. Earlier this year we took a look at these hidden costs and created our cost calculator. Want to know how much you could be saving in financial, environmental and labour costs by using ParentPaperwork to handle all your forms? Just plug your student numbers in to our calculator  and take a look.

Something that rides a trend wave of interest and then at times disappears from view, is the effect schools have on the environment. Just what impact does your school have on the environment? Could things be done differently or better? What are some easy ways to reduce environmental burden in school settings? What is the low hanging fruit you could pick in terms of making your school fully sustainable?

ParentPaperwork was created out of a philosophy that schools are important and special places in our communities and that how we run them can have a material beneficial impact to the environment and sustainability.

Since the beginning of the year ParentPaperwork has handled over 1.2 million forms on behalf of our schools customers. Consider that many of these are multi-page if sent by paper. We estimate that in 2016 schools using ParentPaperwork have saved the planet circa 2.5 million pieces of paper.

In a school with 1000 students, using ParentPaperwork as your forms solution will be a huge step towards taking your school paperless. And it will also mean that 7 trees didn’t get cut down this year. If you use ParentPaperwork for 5 years, that’s 35 trees, a copse or small forest.

If you’re not swayed by the cost savings argument yet, maybe you’ll think about your values and how much a tree, copse or forest matters to your school community?

A Schooling in Green: paper

It’s no secret schools and paper are intrinsically linked – but neither needs the other in order to survive. In fact, it may be time to make paper an endangered species.

Paper is not only a financial burden on schools but the production, deforestation and waste creates a massive carbon footprint. The good news is: schools can green up their act.

But first, a schooling in math.

The amount of paper used in the classroom varies from country to country. In the US, the average classroom uses 25,000 sheets of paper per year, which equals 833 pieces of paper per student.

Now, if one tree makes 8,333 sheets of paper, that means three trees are being used in every single US classroom per annum. That’s a lot of trees, especially when you consider recycling one ton of paper, which is about 20 full-grown trees, saves enough energy to heat an average home for six months.

And it’s not just the trees that are disappearing. Water is a vital ingredient when it comes to the production of trees. In Australia, to make just one ton of paper, over 90,000 litres of precious water are used, which will fill 450 rain barrels.

Modern paper also involves chemicals for bleaching and, once these chemical-laden products go to the landfill after use, it produces dangerous greenhouse gases during decomposition.

All these numbers are not meant to induce fear – they are simply painting a picture of paper consumption in schools. And based on the math, it’s time to make a change.

So how do you build an army of green warriors at your school?

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Learn to love math

A lesson in accounting is the best way to spearhead a sustainable charge. Review your current paper situation. Look at not only how much paper you use but how much paper you waste.

In the UK, the average secondary school produces 22kg of waste per student each academic year. The figure for primary schools is even higher at 45kg per student.

Ashford Secondary School in the UK did their part. They put two lead teachers in charge of Year 7 students to conduct a waste audit, realised they were tossing way too much in the landfill and came up with an action plan.

The school ended up saving nine tons of CO2 emissions per school year through a recycling program.

Educate about trees

Trees are a big part of our collective environments. They produce oxygen, shade, decoration and, if you’re a kid, they are fun to climb.

It’s important to educate students on the impact of paper production on the environment as it is a global problem. The largest producer countries – US, China, Japan and Canada – alone make up more than half of the world’s paper production, which is 400 million tons a year.

According to our earlier calculations, that’s around eight billion trees.

Raise awareness by putting deforestation in perspective. If students cannot imagine that only about 22 percent of the world’s old growth forests remain intact, ask them to imagine a world without trees.

Do something, even if it’s small

After the review and education processes, schools need to take action, even if it is to save one litre of water, one tree or put recycling bins next to every printer.

The simplest way to make a change is to reduce paper-dependent processes and activities with digital alternatives. Go to step one and think about what you have that can go paperless.

Reports and transcripts? Paperless. Permission slips for activities and excursions? Paperless.

School boards and councils should also be encouraged to distribute meeting papers via email or through online blogs to keep the school community up-to-date digitally. It is a cost-effective way to not only save paper but to make sure everyone stays informed.

The technological tools are already at your fingertips to start making your school greener today.

Eco-Schools: Keeping Australia Beautiful

Educating students about environmental issues, sustainability and the impact we have on our surrounds is a challenge that many schools have tried to tackle over the last few decades.

Introducing new programs and setting school-wide goals such as going paperless have helped raise awareness of these issues while educating youngsters, and getting both parents and staff involved. However, for a lot of schools, creating and implementing such programs without having a framework to help guide them can be a difficult task.

Now, one program that has been running internationally for over 20 years is being trialled in Australia and, if its early successes are anything to go by, schools all across the country will soon be getting involved. Hailed as the biggest school environmental program in the world, Eco-Schools is being run in more than 45,000 schools with over 14 million students participating worldwide.

2014 saw Eco-Schools biggest year yet, celebrating its 20th anniversary and being positively acknowledged at the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainability in Nagoya, Japan. That year also saw the program being introduced for the first time in Australia, with The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) inviting Keep Australia Beautiful (KAB) to run the program in New South Wales (NSW), Tasmania and the Northern Territory (NT).

Having delivered environmental education and programs such as the Tidy Towns awards for almost 50 years, KAB was a perfect fit for Eco-Schools, helping to introduce the initiative to almost 100 schools in less than a year.

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KAB logo

Focusing on sustainability education, Eco-Schools provides a 7-step framework that schools follow to gain accreditation, allowing students to be actively involved in managing the school buildings and grounds in a sustainable way. The program’s slogan is ‘empowering students to be the change our sustainable world needs by engaging them in fun, action-orientated learning’.

“The ultimate goal for an Eco-School is for their students to develop knowledge, capabilities and a personal desire to positively contribute to a sustainable community,” says Eco-Schools Education Programs Manager Stacey Passey.

“It’s a straightforward framework that breaks down the huge ‘sustainable school’ challenge into manageable and achievable steps. An emphasis on teamwork and inclusivity encourages everyone to get involved, not just the hardcore eco warriors and sustainability specialists.”

The program is already seeing successes at schools around the country. Appin Public School in the small town of Appin, NSW, is one to look out for – they’ve recently achieved Bronze accreditation in the Eco-Schools program. The highlights of their program so far have been reducing electricity use by 24% and landfill by over 80% through composting and recycling.

However, one of the main benefits of the program is its links to curriculum, something that Stacey and KAB see as its greatest strength.

“We saw a great opportunity for a nationally consistent framework and accreditation of this type. With changing governments and curriculums, we like the longevity of the Eco-Schools program and how it’s flexible enough to be integrated with any curriculum,” says Stacey.

“Students enjoy the Eco-School approach of learning about environmental issues in a positive and active, hands-on way, by doing real projects in their school and community, while teachers like the emphasis on student leadership and curriculum linkages. School environmental management improvements are important but a teacher’s primary focus is always going to be on learning outcomes and their students’ confidence and wellbeing. Having a strong emphasis on those things, not just carbon emissions, is a key strength of the program, and avoids additional admin and extra-curricular duties for teachers.”

Although the program has only been running in NSW, NT and Tasmania for under a year, there are already plans to bring it to the rest of the country. Eco-Schools has also recently introduced an interstate and international school connect program creating partnerships between participating schools across borders. Getting more schools involved will be the key to helping Eco-Schools grow throughout Australia and the world.

“Flexibility is key for a school program like this,” says Stacey. “There are always new kids and new teachers with different interests and strengths, new ideas, new challenges, new syllabuses and varying levels of resources. Eco-Schools welcomes them all.”

Schools wanting to join the Eco-Schools program can register online at www.eco-schools.org.au/register. Organisations that support schools with sustainability initiatives, such as a local council or environmental education centre, can also register on that same webpage.

When registering with ParentPaperwork, you can download a free eBook on How to Reduce Paper Waste in Schools

Paperless Office, Paperless School, Paperless Future

The idea of going paperless is nothing new. In fact, BusinessWeek helped coin the term ‘Paperless Office’ way back in 1975. Despite major leaps in technology since then, we’re still largely living in a paper-fuelled world.

The problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better either. According to an OECD environmental report, global production in paper is expected to increase by 77% between 1995 and 2020. The office is one of the main offenders in its reliance on paper but schools have also traditionally been significant consumers. However, budget constraints and environment considerations have meant ever increasing numbers of schools are becoming active in the fight against paper usage.

Despite positive moves to eradicate paper waste in schools, Edutopia estimates that the average classroom uses 25,000 sheets of paper each year, which equates to 833 pieces of paper per student per year.

With so much of what we do and what students do being reliant on paper, going paperless seems a daunting task. However, ditching paper processes is an extremely effective way to streamline processes, and improve efficiency and productivity. Once we take the steps to reverse the processes we’ve put in place and try something new, the time we have saved will be worth the effort.

The issues most schools face in this area are not so much related to the paper used in classrooms. Finding alternative ways of learning can be as simple as replacing textbooks with eBooks, having greater access to computers and being more creative when it comes to educational activities. For most schools, no paper means no paper forms, yet putting a new and efficient system in place can seem like an expensive and impossible task, and filed away in the ‘too hard basket’.

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But with governments, businesses, health services and other industries aiming for a paperless future – and pages of articles being written about its benefits both financially and environmentally – it can only be a matter of time before schools follow suit.

In fact, this kind of change can help improve age-weary systems immeasurably. One big complaint from teachers in sending home permission slips is the response rate from parents confirming their child’s attendance is incredibly low; not because they don’t want their child to attend an excursion or field trip but because the forms often go missing.

Moving to an online system can save time, save cost and improve liability management for both schools and parents. Forms exchanged between schools and parents, online enrolment systems for new and prospective students and common internal forms such as professional development forms, incident forms, forms for casual relief teachers and much more can all be handed very effectively in a digital environment.

Other advantages come with streamlining the storage and access of emergency and medical details, and excursions and permissions forms, as well as implementing email and SMS notification systems.

While many have concerns over data security (see our post ‘The Private Lives of Students’), these services should always be held on secured servers – or in the cloud – using the latest and most advanced encryption methods.

The end result is a school that not only saves money by cutting down on the cost of paper but also saves money through increased productivity and efficiency, giving teachers more time to do what they do best: teach.

ParentPaperwork offers a 30-day free trial so schools can experience the benefits of transitioning to a paperless environment firsthand.