It was a special day two weeks ago for children at Tahatai Coast School who had the important task of planting seedlings at their school. But this wasn't any ordinary planting.
The children had collected the native seeds themselves from around Mauao six months ago and have been caring for the seedlings while they learnt about the right soil and pest control. Now the big day had arrived to replant them into bigger pots.
The seedlings will eventually be replanted back on Mauao on a special site set aside by the Mauao Trust.
Ten-year-old Eli says he is excited to be seeing progress from seed to seedling.
"It started off as a seed, then we made some special soil. We then planted them in a big tray a few months ago. I'm excited about replanting them today and on Mauao eventually."
Eight-year-old Maia was replanting some harakeke as she explained why she joined the gardening club.
"I joined the gardening club as I like looking after plants and keeping the environment healthy. We are planting trees in bigger pots today, and we will plant them down in Mauao when they've grown enough. I like being part of gardening clubs as it helps the environment."
The project, called the Mauao Regeneration Project, is an initiative of PiPS – People, Plants, Schools.
Marie Paterson, PiPS Funding and Programs Co-ordinator, says the PiPS Kaupapa is to look at projects that form a connection with the community and local environment.
"PiPS wanted to look at an environmental educational project outside our garden programme that connects students with their local environment.
"We've been working closely with the Mauao Environment Advisor and key members of the Mauao Trust Board to make this happen through this project.
"The project kicked off on the 2nd of May with the Mauao Seed Collection Day and was a great success.
"Since then, the children have been growing the seedlings. There is a great sense of responsibility and pride they feel that they are taking care of something special. They think it's really amazing that Josh Clark, Mauao Environmental Advisor and Dean Flavell, Chair of Poutiriao, have given them this responsibility.
"The children have been excited to see the seedlings growing and felt very proud when they repotted them. They are even more excited about replanting them on Mauao."
Marie explains that there are long-term outcomes of the project, both for environmental regeneration and the children's connection with Mauao.
"When the plants have grown, maybe next year, the students will be invited back to return the natives to Mauao at a community planting day.
"Those that have participated in this project will then be able to visit their whanau ngahere (family forest) for years to come, creating that long-lasting connection with Mauao. It's creating future kaitiaki. There is evidence that people are more likely to take care of a place if they have a connection to it – it creates a sense of belonging to look after Papatūānuku. We want our tamariki to be connected.
"The project is also all about regeneration – planting more native plants on Mauao which adds to native birdlife and the diversity on Mauao."
After launching the Mauao Regeneration Project, interest was shown from some of PiPS' Papamoa Schools to see if they could do something similar.
"This will be on Te Rae o Papamoa as they are connected to the hills," says Marie. "We are in the planning stages and will work closely with iwi to develop a plan that will have the same outcomes as the Mauao Project. We intend to kick this off next year."
PiPS was formed in 2016 by two parent volunteers at Arataki Primary and Tahatai Coast School who saw a problem; if for any reason the parents or staff could not come to garden club the club would not run.
Fast forward to today and through the help of funders and support from their member schools, PiPS now runs the garden in-schools programme for six schools in Mount Maunganui and Papamoa that teach children about the environment and how to grow and cook their own food.
The schools involved include Omanu Primary, Mount Intermediate, St Thomas Moore Primary, Arataki School, Tahatai Coast School and Papamoa Primary School. A new school, Suzanne Aubert Catholic School Papamoa, will be joining PiPS next year.
PiPS runs a range of projects and programmes, including the Mauao Regeneration Project, running of the in-school garden clubs, installing shade houses at schools so they can grow seedlings, and creating an online resource of videos to support students and whanau during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
One of PiPS supporters is local funder TECT. The trust approved $20,000 in funding for PiPS' operating costs earlier this year.
Marie says the funding, which allows them to employ staff, run the garden clubs, purchase gardening and operational equipment, is vital.
"TECT is one of our largest funders, and without their support, we simply could not deliver projects like this.
"Funding enables our facilitators to teach and pull together resources for this project and the project to be managed. We are so appreciative of TECT's support, especially being a small community group."