Centennial Parklands Education Access Pass
The UNSW ASPIRE/Centennial Parklands partnership highlights to students the diverse skills required to manage eco-systems
In late 2013 the UNSW ASPIRE Program joined with the Centennial Parklands Foundation to offer opportunities for students from disadvantaged, regional and remote schools to visit Sydney’s iconic Centennial Parklands precinct.
A total of 391 students from 22 schools benefitted from the Centennial Parklands Education Access Pass, an initiative to support outdoor environmental education, science and Indigenous excursions for students who may otherwise not be able to participate due to their low socio-economic status.
- University of New South Wales (UNSW)
- Centennial Parklands Education
- Centennial Parklands Foundation
- ASPIRE Partner Schools.
For students living in outer-urban, rural and remote areas, as well as those from low-income households and Indigenous backgrounds, the difficulty in accessing and cost of (often limited) public transport places them at a disadvantage. These students have limited ability to engage with environments beyond their immediate neighbourhood. In bringing students from LSES communities in south-western Sydney and regional NSW to Centennial Parklands, this partnership overcomes the issue of social exclusion as a result of transport disadvantage. It aims to open students’ eyes to a broader spectrum of educational and career opportunities, such as those presented by the existence of green spaces in urban environments.
The ASPIRE/Centennial Parklands partnership highlights to students the importance of managing eco-systems and the diverse skills and qualifications required to do so. Explicit connections are made between activities, the broad degree programs to which they relate, and the subsequent career pathways available to graduates.
Staff from the Education Precinct at Centennial Parklands work closely with UNSW ASPIRE to tailor activities appropriate to the varying interests and needs of visiting school groups. Experiential learning in the Parklands features the Botany Wetlands, Lachlan Swamp, Casuarina woods, a fresh water aquifer, Banksia scrubland and the Parklands’ large fruit bat colony. The Parklands’ Indigenous Ranger conducts a walkabout tour through the park, sharing insights into the Indigenous history of Sydney and this large tract of preserved green space. Further activities include bushcraft and animal tracking.
The program actively engages students in scientific methodologies and investigations such as classification of species, water quality testing, environmental impact studies, and exploration of the factors influencing the growth, development, adaptation and diversity of ecosystems. Park rangers connect these activities to relevant school curriculum and to opportunities for further study at tertiary level.
Participants have represented the broad diversity of UNSW ASPIRE’s partner schools and communities. In December 2013, 140 Year 6 students from primary schools in southwestern Sydney combined a day of environmental science activities with a ‘Transition to High School’ focus, linking notions of adaptation, diversity, resilience and environment within each theme. In both 2013 and 2014, Centennial Parklands hosted 70 students from regional and remote UNSW ASPIRE partner schools for a morning of activities exploring the diversity and ingenuity of Indigenous culture, the issues associated with sustaining healthy ecosystems in urban areas, and debate around the relative merits or otherwise of city and country living. Additionally, 107 Year 10 students from four metropolitan high schools gained insight into the options available within the senior science curriculum as they prepared to make subject choices prior to commencing the Higher School Certificate.
Qualitative feedback from students and teachers indicates that activities offered are engaging and valuable. Teachers report that students leave the park precinct with a broadened understanding of study and career opportunities available to them, as well as a sense (in the case of regional students) that living in a large city such as Sydney might be possible and enjoyable for them.
“(The activities) have shown students what it is like to be out in the world and started to open their eyes to opportunities available to them.” – teacher.
Following the Year 6 activities linked with high school transition, the percentage of students who reported feeling ‘nervous’ about going to high school fell from 22 per cent prior to engaging in the activities, to six per cent afterwards.
“I will tell my family that it was fun and it was the best time of my school life!” – Year 6 student.
Funded by the Centennial Parklands Foundation, the Centennial Parklands Education Access Pass is an opportunity for students from disadvantaged, regional and remote schools to visit the Parklands. The Foundation has donated 9,000 student places over three years to enable the Centennial Parklands Education Precinct to offer outdoor Bush School and Indigenous-themed environmental education sessions.
The integration of both Western and Indigenous knowledges in each activity provides a particular partnership benefit, especially in relation to UNSW ASPIRE’s commitment to students from remote communities. Indigenous students visiting Sydney for the first time engage more readily with content and concepts when delivered in a culturally responsive manner and illustrated by familiar examples.
Working with 57 schools in disadvantaged, rural and remote communities, and being located in close proximity to Centennial Parklands, the UNSW ASPIRE Schools Outreach program was perfectly positioned to support the Parklands
Education team to achieve their target of working with 6,000 school students in 2013 and 2014. A shared vision ensures efficient use of resources to meet key performance indicators for each organisation. The capacity of the Centennial Parklands Education team to adapt its core activities and accommodate the additional ‘Widening Participation’ focus of the UNSW ASPIRE program has further strengthened the partnership.
UNSW ASPIRE is committed to providing partner schools with fully-funded opportunities for students to participate in academic enrichment activities which promote awareness of, aspiration to, and attainment of tertiary education. In partnering with Centennial Parklands, UNSW ASPIRE is able to direct the benefit of the Centennial Parklands Foundation’s philanthropic support towards its target recipients in a strategic and mutually beneficial manner.
UNSW ASPIRE is focusing its partnership efforts in 2015–2017 upon the collaborative development of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related academic enrichment resources and opportunities in order to engage students in the primary and early secondary years. The ongoing relationship with Centennial Parklands will be an integral feature of this targeted approach.
This case study is one of a series of 31 presented in our case study publication, Partnerships in Higher Education.