On Wednesday Ballycraigy Primary welcomed delegates from the Department of Education and Environment as they showcased their extensive outdoor environment.
The delegation included none other than Environment Minster Edwin Poots and the Education Minister Michelle McIllveen.
The school is currently working towards their eighth Eco School’s Green Flag Award, are an Ambassador Eco-School and have also been named the ‘best of the best’ by Keep NI Beautiful.
Ballycraigy has been involved in the Eco Schools programme, since 2005 and has developed an outdoor vegetable garden which includes a greenhouse, raised beds and poly-tunnel where they grow a wide range of crops including grapes, tomatoes, potatoes, leeks, carrots, radishes, corn, courgettes, peas, pumpkins and various herbs.
The school has many wildflower strips, a woodland trail, bug hotels, an alpine garden, a pond, swift boxes and a selection of bird feeders and boxes to enhance local biodiversity.
The newly appointed principal Kerrie Wilson was pleased to give the VIPs a guided tour of what they had achieved.
“It is wonderful that the legacy of Ballycraigy’s outdoor work continues to be recognised at such a high level,” she said.
“I feel that the dedication of the both the previous and current staff and pupils is simply amazing.
“Work like this takes such a great investment at so many levels - and I know Dr Edwards and Mrs Brown will be very proud of Mrs Farrell our Eco Coordinator and her team.
“As a nurturing school, we place an enormous value on the children’s well-being and being outside whatever the weather helps to develop our pupils holistically.
“By growing and cultivating crops and caring for the garden our pupils are able to take risks, give things a go and try new opportunities in a safe, non-intimidating place.
“It was wonderful to watch our pupils speak with such confidence and enthusiasm as they gave our guests a real Ballycraigy welcome and a tour of our extensive site.
“Educating our children about their local environment and sustainability helps the children to understand the role they have to play in global issues.”
Hannah Farrell the school Eco- coordinator said she was immensely proud of the students.
“I was delighted to watch our young people showcase the important Eco work we do at Ballycraigy Primary School,” she said.
“The children talked to the Ministers, representatives, MLAs, Education Authority and Eco- Schools with such confidence, knowledge and passion about the Eco-Schools programme and its importance.
“As certainly proven on Wednesday, the programme develops young people into leaders who acknowledge and understand the responsibility we all have to live sustainably.
“They are empowered by being given opportunities to make positive changes in our school to help protect the environment.
“Eco-Schools gives young people a platform to which their voices can be heard. Furthermore, by making connections with nature at a young age, children become citizens who have a sense of responsibility and care for the world around them.”
Tom, a member of the school’s Eco Team, said the work had given him a new appreciation of the world around him.
“I am very proud of our school. I think if we keep up our hard work we can make really amazing changes,” he said.
“It makes me sad to think about people who don’t care about the environment as much as I do.
“We all need to act to take care of our planet. I am most concerned about our wildlife.”
Fellow pupil Emily said there were many benefits stemming from the trail-blazing work at Ballycraigy.
“I love being part of the Eco- Team because I love being outside with nature,” she said.
“I enjoy gardening and making homes for our local wildlife.
“Eco Club has helped me to become confident in speaking to others. I loved having the chance to share our work with lots of important people.
“It was really fun to show other school children what we do here too!”
MLA Trevor Clarke was certainly impressed.
“It was a pleasure to join Environment Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, and Education Minister, Michelle McIlveen MLA, at Ballycraigy Primary School to see first-hand their fantastic environmental work carried out by pupils,” he said.
“The outdoor vegetable garden, wildlife area and woodland area were constructed through the Eco-Schools programme which is a hugely important part of school life and will spark a lifelong interest in the environment in all pupils involved.”