Showing a picture taken in 2014 during the inauguration of the new campus of Government High School in Chinnapatti near Chathirapatti, P. Vasanthal, the Headmistress, points out how the 2.78-acre campus was a vacant piece of land devoid of any shade.
Four years later, the school, which has recently received Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar from the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, has become an orchard with a variety of fruit-bearing and flowering plants in different stages of growth. Mango, guava, gooseberry, jack fruit, vembu , pungai, vagai, pomegranate, gulmohar and a variety of other trees and plants dot the campus, located few hundred metres outside the village. The school also maintains a small herbal garden, with plants like tulsi and siriyanangai .
According to Ms. Vasanthal, who played an instrumental role in transforming the school into a green campus, the motivation came from the failure she faced while serving as Headmistress in a school near Parthibanur in Ramanathapuram district. “Multiple attempts to grow trees on the campus failed as the region is arid. When I was transferred here and saw the sprawling vacant space, I wanted to try growing trees, at least for giving some shade to students,” she said.
C. Jeyakumaran, teacher and coordinator of the school’s Eco Club operated through the National Green Corps initiative, said the 10 saplings planted initially grew well owing to soil fertility. “That encouraged us to plant more,” he said.
The school subsequently sought help from Madurai Division office of the Forest department, which gave around 450 saplings of different species free of cost and also guided the staff on the right way to plant, water and maintain them. “Initially, we had to engage labourers to plant all the saplings. Gradually, the maintenance was fully taken over by children with the support of teachers,” he said, adding that the staff and students had also learnt a bit of how to tackle plant diseases that occasionally affect the trees.
Today, each of the roughly 120 children studying in the school from Class 6 to 10 has been assigned four trees for maintenance. “The idea is to make children take ownership of the trees,” Ms. Vasanthal said.
S. Sujitha, a Class 10 student, who accompanied the Headmistress to Chennai to receive the Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar for maintaining the campus clean and green, said a majority of the children had developed an emotional bonding with the trees they were maintaining.
“Many of us now like to sit under the tree and study or have lunch. The trees are like our friends now. There is also a healthy competition among students on whose tree is flowering better or growing fast,” she said.
V. Dinesh Kumar, a student of Class 9, said maintenance of these trees and saplings also gave them practical knowledge about different plant varieties, conservation and soil fertility. “The herbal garden is very useful. If any of us has cough, we munch few tulsi leaves, which helps most of the time,” he said. “I like the Eco Club activities so much that I want to grow trees near my house in Chinnapatti. Unfortunately, there is no space,” he added.
Pointing out that all the children hailed from socio-economically poor families in Chinnapatti and nearby villages, Ms. Vasanthal highlighted that the school had been performing well academically and also in extra-curricular activities. “For instance, while the pass percentage in Class 10 was marginally low earlier, we have now recorded centum pass for the past three years,” she said.
The pressing demand for the school is a compound wall. “The absence of it a compound wall makes it difficult for the maintenance of trees and plants, apart from being a general safety issue for children,” said Ms. Vasanthal, adding that an appeal had already been made to Collector K. Veera Raghava Rao and Madurai East MLA P. Moorthy for allocation of funds to construct the wall.
The school was also thinking of generating a modest and sustainable income for maintenance of the orchard through sale of fruits and other produce once the trees attained full growth, she said.