Those roots form the basis of TREE, The Regional Engagement Enterprise, run by Kinross Wolaroi School in conjunction with the community of Orange.
TREE provides students from Kindergarten to Year 12 with contextual and cross-curricular agricultural learning experiences both within and outside of the school.
It’s a partnership between the school and the community that adds a local flavour to education, allowing students to explore future careers and giving regional producers, farmers and industry leaders the opportunity to share their work with a new generation.
Tom Riley, director of TREE, says the program has a number of aims, including introducing students to the realities of agriculture and related industries.
“I spent a lot of time talking to staff and students and community members, all of the stakeholders really, about the need to show agriculture for what it is today, which is a very broad and diverse industry, but also the need for us to capitalise on our strongest asset, which is our community.”
He says it’s something locals were happy to get on board with.
“…we’re five minutes away from industry leaders in almost every sector, the country spirit means that they’re very keen to give up their time and give back to students.
“We all feel connected as part of the community because if we do well, they do well, and if we produce really good students here they might work in their industries or they might drive regional Australia.”
This is something he’s had experience in; in his previous role at The King’s School, Riley led the Future Project which gave students the opportunity to work with biotech companies and universities.
“…that was a really good experience, in terms of understanding the importance of bringing experts into students’ lives,” he explains.
The Future Project helped to plant the seed for TREE, which involves projects throughout a student’s time at the school that take a cross-curricular and hands-on approach, contextualising the usual classroom subjects.
For example, a project by Year 5 students last year to build a greenhouse out of plastic bottles covered architecture and mathematics through the design and construction of the building, as well as science as they determined how to maximise thermal mass.
Senior year levels’ projects mostly focus on modern agriculture.
“In drama, the students worked with a local filmmaker and they made videos about farmer suicide and mental health awareness,” Riley says.
“In languages we’re working with the Department of Primary Industries and their insect collection, looking at classifications.”
Meanwhile, in English, current projects are centred on social, environmental and cultural sustainability and students are working with some of the region’s biggest producers, like Ross Hill Wines.
Older students also have the opportunity to undertake internships in the industry, during which they can work on real-life projects.
Riley says the school hopes students gain transferrable skills that they can use to “make a difference” in life beyond school.
He says there has been a shift in students’ perspectives and ideas since the projects began last year.
“What I am noticing is students are getting excited about subjects and about content that previously they found difficult.”
However, the ultimate goal is a cultural shift in ideas about agriculture, and that won’t happen overnight, Riley says.
“We do have a long-term plan. We’re kind of planting the trees for someone else to sit in the shade. It’s cultural change, and it’ll take a long time and that’s true for the perception of agriculture just generally.
“There’s still that feeling that it’s just growing and grazing and it’s not always academic, and that’s so far from the truth from what I’ve seen.”