Students from The Whitby High School and teacher from ID Mkhize High School  ©

K Ballance, The Whitby High School

When The Whitby High School, Cheshire, embarked on an international partnership with ID Mkhize High School in Cape Town, they instantly connected over a shared passion for raising awareness of plastic waste. After seven years of collaborating across borders, the schools are now leading a cluster partnership of six schools across the UK and South Africa to encourage learners, their families and local communities to pledge their commitment to the global issue of Zero Waste. 

Inspired by global learning

Visiting her South African partner school, ID Mkhize, for the first time in 2011 was a life-changing experience for Krysia Ballance, Assistant Curriculum Leader for Design & Technology at The Whitby High School.

“That first visit to Cape Town was one of adventure and cultural diversity,” she says. “Walking in and being welcomed by the school choir gave us goose bumps and stirred deep emotions. We have never looked back.”

Ever since, Krysia has been inspired by the power of global learning, working with ID Mkhize on numerous joint projects focusing on recycling and enterprise.

Collaborating with learners across borders has inspired students into action both inside and outside of the classroom.

During a recent self-funded visit to Cape Town, for example, a group of sixth form students from Whitby helped their partner school transform an old shipping container into a school tuck shop.

A shared pledge for Zero Waste

With the support of the Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning programme, The Whitby High School and ID Mkhize High School got the opportunity to further extend the positive impact of global learning by connecting with two further secondary schools and two primary schools in the UK and South Africa through a new cluster partnership.

“As a cluster, we can have an even bigger impact, because we can work together on projects that will really make a difference,” says Krysia.

The partners kicked off this new collaboration by all pledging their commitment to the environment by tackling the issue of plastic waste and promoting their support for the UN’s Global Goals of Climate Action and Responsible Production and Consumption.

Across the partnership, learners have been inspired and encouraged to take the lead on promoting the Zero Waste ethos.

Students taking action

Through the partnership’s ‘Eco-brick Challenge’, pupils have taken the initiative to collect as many Eco-bricks – plastic bottles filled with plastic waste that can be used in the construction of furniture, planters and, even, full-scale buildings – as possible.

At Weston Primary, Runcorn, students collected 300 Eco-bricks in just two months, while at Hillside Primary, Helsby, learners are encouraging their families to join the challenge.

“Parents are actively getting involved and shocking themselves to see how much plastic they throw away, which is making them think about how they too can reduce plastic,” says Krysia.

All of the schools have different plans for their Eco-bricks. In Cape Town, the partner schools will build an Eco-brick planter, while at The Whitby High School, the decision will be taken to a whole-school vote, with the preferred option currently being a giant Eco-brick fish sculpture to symbolise their pledge to the environment.

Other projects in across the secondary and primary schools are seeing students apply their enterprise skills to create tea trays from waste wood, decorated with ‘upcycled’ (emptied, ironed and painted) used teabags and giant wall murals from discarded bottle tops.

In Cape Town, students are creating solar lamps from used plastic bottles, while at Weston Primary, pupils have established a student-led Eco Council to take responsibility for all recycling at the school.

At Neston High School, pledges continue to roll in from students with their commitment for reducing single waste plastic.

“The whole zero waste initiative is having a massive impact. Pupils are starting to take more responsibility for what they buy and dispose of. Their leadership and enterprise skills are growing all the time. They are all just want to be involved,” says Krysia.

For learners, exploring global issues has more relevance when collaborating and sharing with peers in another country, and the sheer scale of joint projects really hits home when the partnership’s work is presented at celebratory assemblies.

From the curriculum to the community

The Zero Waste ethos has been embedded across all curriculum areas, by exploring environmental issues and undertaking various enterprise and recycling projects in Maths, Science, Geography, Design & Technology and Music.

“The free resources provided by Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning have really helped to explore global issues through the curriculum,” says Krysia.

Beyond the school gates, the partnership is now exploring ways to spread its message to the wider community.

In the UK, the primary schools are distributing letters to encourage people to reduce one piece of plastic waste in their shopping per week, and Whitby is planning to connect with local industries to raise awareness of Zero Waste.

For Krysia, international partnerships as the perfect way to explore global issues.

“If you have the passion and drive, and want to inspire and be inspired, set up a partnership and do something about an issue you care about. Nothing is too small to make a difference. In the words of the South African human rights activist Desmond Tutu: do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world,” she says.

Visit the Zero Waste project page

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