Proud to be the UK’s first Earth Charter school
By: Debbie Godfrey-Phaure, CEO Avonbourne International Business and Enterprise Trust
When the little ones arrive at Bournemouth’s Avonwood Primary School they are greeted with the positive mantra – to change the world ‘it starts with one.’ Although they don’t know it yet, these four, five and six year-olds who attend Avonwood are in a very privileged position; they are at the UK’s first ever Earth Charter school.
Avonwood Primary opened its doors in September 2014 as Bournemouth’s newest primary school and the first to adopt the charter as the moral compass for all it does. So from their early years’ curriculum right down to the school mascot, the principles of the Earth Charter seep through everything Avonwood does. And it was no surprise that when the idea for this new school was conceived back in 2013 the Earth Charter would be the heartbeat of its formation.
Avonwood is part of the Avonbourne Multi-Academy Trust, which has endorsed the Charter’s ethos since 2008, when Bournemouth Borough Council became the first Earth Charter local authority.
Debbie Godfrey-Phaure, CEO, says “At Avonbourne Trust we have embraced the Earth Charter principles for several years now. Avonwood Primary School has achieved Earth Charter status. It is part of our personal development lessons and it influences our curriculum throughout all subjects taught at Avonbourne College for girls, Harewood College for boys and our mixed Avonbourne Sixth Form. English lessons may include a debate about the Syrian refugee crisis and in science our students learn about climate change and its impact on the planet. So when we planned to open a primary school to join our family of schools it seemed the perfect opportunity to instill the Earth Charter’s principles from the outset of a child’s education.”
I approached the then UK Director of Earth Charter and asked if could we make Avonwood an official Earth Charter school and three years on we are delighted that this is where we now are – the UK’s first. When Avonwood children enter their purpose-built new school building one of their first sights is the Earth Charter poem which has been painted on the main wall in reception. Underpinning everything they do are the following core values: Treat all living beings with care; promote cultural tolerance and peace; learn about different people and religions and build democratic societies.¨
All of this is carried out in an age appropriate way. And on the day the photos for this article were taken the children witnessed the first butterflies to burst from the cocoons that were being kept in the classroom.
The Head of Avonwood, Annie Dowling, said: “Having the caterpillars in the classroom has enabled the children to see nature at work, the beginning of new life. The creatures helped them to understand how we need to care for all living creatures, even the tiniest of insects – and look at the rewards when you do take care of them.”
As part of their early years’ curriculum the children learn about different religions and festivals and their school mascot Woody takes them on a daily journey around the world to learn about different cultures. Acts of peace – such as being a good friend – are rewarded in weekly golden assemblies. The children are also getting a taste of democracy and decision making through the school council.
“Our school logo ‘it starts with one’ is taken from the Earth Charter,” Annie added. The children are learning that to make the world a better place it must all start with them. We begin by making them responsible for the tidiness of their own classroom, and then we broaden that to the whole school and eventually get them thinking about what they can do to make things better for their street, their town, their country and even the globe.
Our school is growing and by 2020 will cater for ages up to 11 and so the teaching of the charter’s principles will evolve as the children do. And it will be a seamless transition for the Avonwood children when they go on to either Avonbourne or Harewood colleges for their secondary years. They will join such initiatives as the Earth Charter awards in which Avonbourne and Harewood students recognise green-minded businesses. Or the Project Emerge charity which sees Avonbourne girls issue loans to aspiring businessmen and women from developing countries. And then there’s the eco business ‘Funneling4Fuel’ that was launched by the sixth form and sees recycled oil used to fuel the Trust’s fleet of mini buses. The Trust’s students are also no strangers to campaigning for justice and have even knocked on the door of Number 10 lobbying David Cameron to support the right of every child to go to school.
All those initiatives started with one student and have gone on to benefit people globally. This generation really does care about more than just themselves. They are far more aware of the world and what is happening in it than my generation.
Having the Earth Charter principles taught at our schools help to reinforce the good hearts of our young people.
I for one am very grateful that we are leaving the world to be looked after by this generation.
For more information on Avonbourne Trust’s CEO, Debbie Godfrey Phaure, contact Joanne Cox at Avonbourne Trust at 01202 727018.
Watch here a video of Avonwood Primary School: