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Downe House Pupil Editors: how pupils are driving positive environmental change


We’ve been overwhelmed by the response to our pupil editor initiative, which aims to give pupils the opportunity to showcase their talents to a wider audience. Earlier this term, we set our editors their latest challenge: to write an article or submit a series of photographs centred around the theme of the environment. With COP26 grabbing the headlines at the end of last year, we’ve been hugely impressed by pupils’ commitment to driving positive change both in school and out.

This week, Downe House pupils Phillipa, Gabriella, Aryana and Emilia explain the efforts they and their fellow pupils are going to to highlight the pressing environmental issues facing the world right now...

How are pupils helping to drive change and promote sustainability inside and out of school?

As the next generation, it is vital that we are driving for change in our community. It is up to us to help heal our environment and contribute towards the healing that the world needs.

At Downe House one student from each year is a representative for the DECOS.

This stands for: Don’t throw away – Recycle, Eat what’s on your plate, Choose well, Only print what you need, Switch off, save energy. This is a really encouraging acronym, which is posted around the School. The DECOS are a body of students that lead the way in the charge to make a difference.

Lower four DECOS representative, Abigail Bowden, when asked what the School was doing towards sustainability she said, “Like last year, the school are doing a Switch off Fortnight, in which students and staff are encouraged to pay special attention to the conservation of energy, such as turning of lights and taps. We are also working towards the schools Green Flag Award, and we are currently choosing the areas to enter in.”

Here is a snippet from an interview with Head Mistress, Mrs McKendrick, and Head of the DECOS, Queena Wong:

When asked, if there is anything outside of school that you have been doing personally towards sustainability? Mrs McKendrick said, “I am just about to take possession of an electric car, which has been a really big decision to make, and we look at our food miles. We’re also much better at recycling than we were three years ago, so those are three things I’ve done.”

Queena Wong answered, “I think for me, because I live in Hong Kong, there’s often a lot of traffic jams so I try to take public transport, which is really good in Hong Kong because it’s such a small place. So, you can get anywhere by train in an hour but in the UK I think it’s a bit more difficult to do.”

They were also asked if they think there is anything we can do for sustainability as pupils?

Mrs McKendrick replied, “I think once we provide a reminder about something, the pupils do it for two or three weeks but once we stop, or we promote something else, the previous event just declines. What we’re trying to do is to help our pupils to build a habit, but it’s up to you to keep that, we can supply the ideas, but it’s up to you to make it a habit and keep it going.”

Queena Wong added, “As a student, I believe that it is super important to not only make room for change, but to want change. Personally, I try to go one day a week without meat, even if it’s just one meal a day, it will make a slow difference. Even though, it is not always the easiest thing to do, making a small effort to switch off applications that you are not using, and remember not to leave windows open if the heating is on, is going to slowly mend our climate.”

By Phillipa (LIV)

Environmental awareness is crucial to educate and encourage everyone to help, as every day the world becomes more rubbish-logged. I feel that environmental awareness both in and out of school is undoubtably important and I know it is also just as important for many of my peers, but as a human being, I know that having the drive to be environmentally aware is difficult and sometimes unachievable if you do not know how you can help.

Whereas many are maintaining environmental awareness subconsciously such as reusing books by passing them along to others, using sustainable water bottles and even just using less paper. As a member of Downe House I am aware of the DECO’s which is a team of girls who encourage awareness throughout the School. DECO’S stands for - Don’t throw away, Eat what is on your plate, Choose well, Only print what you need.   

This is very inspirational, and posters are provided all-over the School and is a wonderful way to spread environmental awareness. Personally, I feel that Downe House is already doing well, and we have managed to receive the Tatler Eco Award, which we were incredibly happy about.   

Schools are trying their absolute best to become more sustainable. For example, at Downe house we have a policy which outlines our plans for 2025, such as: 

  • Staff and student co–committees  
  • Great British bird watch  
  • Switch off fortnight  
  • Waste week  
  • Gardening club  
  • An elective program on biodiversity  
  • Art workshops   
  • Collecting plastic tubs  
  • Lecture by local beekeeper   
I interviewed the head of the DECO’s, Miss Vickery, and she explained that personally she will be aiming to keep this topic in the front of everyone’s minds by using visual clues such as creative and eye–catching posters. As a pupil, I know this technique works as even if you are not particularly involved it still makes the topic seem a lot more interesting.    

I also interviewed a DECO’s pupil, Abigail Bowden, and her insights were remarkably interesting, regarding what she was doing out of school to promote sustainability. Abigail said, “I am trying to recycle and use sustainable products as much as possible and sometimes do litter training in my local area.”  When asked if she had any tips on being more sustainable, Abigail answered, “Make sure you pick up litter and make sure rubbish goes in the right bin. Even though this sounds simple, these are still crucial things everyone needs to do.”   Finally, I talked with the Headmistress, Mrs McKendrick, and I asked her what the school was focusing on, and she said that food waste and other types of waste was the School’s concentration for the year.

Finally, I asked her whether we partnered with other schools for ideas, and she said that the School talks to local establishments regularly and they discuss ideas to make the community better sustainably.  

To conclude I want to highlight that being environmentally aware is just the first step towards sustainability and protecting the environment, there are so many other things you can do. However, if everyone took this first step, the world would take a leap forward to living long and healthy.   

By Gabriella (Remove) 

Downe House School Doubles Down on Going Green

The future. It can seem so far away. Depending on one’s perspective, it can be weeks, months, or years. The future from an environmental perspective is now. 

Changing our behaviour in the present will ensure humanity has a future. Understanding sustainability is undoubtably the first step. Driving change can be daunting at first, especially when it is a field you are unaware of. Therefore, it is crucial for schools to take explicit action and not only educate but inspire their pupils to drive change.

As a pupil at Downe House, I have witnessed a remarkable change in the awareness of sustainability advance throughout the school. To start, we have a team of pupils come together to form a sustainable programme called The DECO’S, lead by our school’s head of sustainability, Miss Vickery. Their task is to embolden girls in our School to do everything that we can to increase sustainability both within school and out. I had the pleasure of interviewing Miss Vickery, who gave me a helpful insight on what the school plans to do this year. Her comments were greatly alluring:

What are you doing to raise awareness of sustainability in our school?
For me personally, as environmental awareness coordinator, I will be aiming to keep this topic in the front of everyone’s mind by using visual clues (creating new posters), providing articles for school publications, links to news/programmes of interest, educational opportunities, workshops, and eco-themed trips.

What action is the school currently taking toward sustainability?
We have a Downe House Sustainability Policy which outlines our plans to 2025. As part of this we carry out an annual environmental review and action plan working towards our Eco-Schools Green Flag Award.

After hearing the School’s action plan for this year, it has motivated many pupils to reduce their individual carbon footprint.  What more can be done? Two of us have now come up with an initiative on how to accelerate our drive to increase sustainability. These are our principles:

1. REDUCE - (waste, meat consumption, energy usage, fossil fuels etc.)
2. REINVENT - Change the mindset behind the way things are done. Come up with new ideas to replace bad habits
3. REWARD - Inspire everyone in the school to be involved by rewarding them through an inter house point system.

Pupils will be encouraged to innovate, implement, and inspire.With this plan in action, we are hoping our result will be a carbon neutral school where children inspire their parents to reduce their consumption and continue to do this both in school and out. Ultimately, our end goal is to accelerate our School’s journey to carbon neutrality. 

By Aryana (LIV)

The Issues We Face

These photos represent what we will miss in the years to come if we do not open our eyes to the problems that we now face:

The environment we live in is a fragile thing. It constantly changes, shatters and reforms, and in doing so it creates the habitat that we call planet Earth (home). However, from the standard the Earth was before humanity to the disappointing reality of present day, our home isn’t feeling on top of the world. 

For over approximately one hundred years, people have been talking about climate change, and the problems it is causing for our future. We understand that in 1912, people were not aware of what was happening to the climate or the impact their actions were going to have on the environment. However, during the past hundred years, this dilemma has turned into the biggest problem we face. 

The ice caps are melting, and the sea level is rising. Our atmosphere is becoming more and more polluted with CO2 and the average temperature we would expect from our dear planet Earth is definitely not what we face in reality. Weather patterns are changing, summers are hotter, winters harsher and even billions of pounds could not stop what is going to inevitably happen. 

However, spreading this message with anger, violence and stubbornness is not the answer. The not-so-very-peaceful protests that are becoming more frequent do not help change people’s minds. In fact, it can make people see even less reason. So, how do we change this unfortunate situation we are in? How do we turn this around?

The answer is we can’t. We can’t erase the past. No matter how much you might regret throwing your rubbish onto the street, it will never get up and walk itself to the bin. We have sunk so far into the quicksand of global warming that our head is just above the surface, and we can only just take a breath. Even if we manage to be rescued, save ourselves, or somehow survive this, we will still have sand on our face, in our hair, and all over our bodies because the truth is we can never get back what has already been damaged – humanity has left a permanent mark that cannot be reversed. 

The best we can do at this very moment in time is work. Not hope. Hope might help, and hope might fuel us, but hope alone merely makes us feel better about ourselves. The world does not feel better about our destruction. 

So now, the best thing we can do is try – it is our only option. To try may be the very thing we need to brush away the sand and get back up again. All our species has done whilst on this planet is take from the world. Now it is time to work together and give back.

By Emilia (Remove)