Students from Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) schools have had the rare opportunity to get up close and personal with one of Australia’s biggest icons … the koala!

Sydney Catholic Schools students learning about wildlife conservation at Taronga Zoo

Students learning about wildlife conservation.

Eight SCS students visited Taronga Zoo where they met Baxter the Koala and some of his native friends.

They also got to speak with zoo keepers about koalas and the innovative conservation projects they are undertaking as part of SCS’ first Project Koala program.

“The koala is such an iconic Australian animal but there are very few natural habitats in NSW, so many students have never seen a koala in person before,” said Taronga Zoo’s education officer, Georgina Cairns, who is currently seconded to the zoo from SCS.

“Having students come to the zoo helps them to create a sense of empathy and a connection with the animals and gives them a better understanding of the importance of wildlife conservation.”

One of Taronga Zoo’s many in-situ education programs, Project Koala aims to get students to engage their local community to take action to help care for our koalas which, researchers estimate, are on track to be extinct as early as 2050 without significant ecological changes.

SCS’ participating schools are:

Throughout 2020 zoo staff, with assistance from SCS teachers, have guided students in Year 3 to 10 to come up with a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) based conservation solution to assist with the ongoing survival of koalas.

This builds on SCS’ authentic inquiry-based learning approach which sees students empathise with a real-world problem, define the issue, brainstorm solutions, design and test a prototype.

“The solution could be a technological innovation, an invention, a device, an empowering community education message or even an inspirational behaviour change campaign,” Ms Cairns said.

Zac Zieba from St Joseph’s Como, for example, came with a design for a t-shirt which he’s been selling in his local shopping centre to raise money for the Australian Koala Foundation.

Students from St Michael's Daceyville

Students from St Michael’s Daceyville.

Ms Cairns said programs such as Project Koala provide students with the opportunity to be innovative and collaborative problem solvers, who are making the world a better place.

Throughout the project, SCS students spoke with zoo experts – including wildlife conservation officer, Dr Phoebe Meager, and community experts from Campbelltown City Council – to learn about ways to support their conservation efforts.

The council also donated seeds to the schools in Project Koala for students to propagate.

Students will either plant the seeds in their schools to create safe habitats for koalas and other native animals, or return the propagated seeds to Campbelltown City Council to plant in popular koala areas.

SCS’ Global Capabilities Education Officer, Roslyn Mahrous, said this new partnership with Taronga Zoo has highlighted the calibre of creativity, innovation and collaboration of our very talented Sydney Catholic schools including their “expression of empathy in rising to the call to be stewards of God’s creation.”

A new group of SCS schools and students will participate in Project Koala in 2021.

  • Students from St Michael's Daceyville
  • Sydney Catholic Schools students learning about wildlife conservation at Taronga Zoo
  • Zac Zieba with his mother and Taronga Zoo education officer Georgie Cairns
  • Students from St Brigid's Catholic Primary School Marrickville working on a project
  • Students from St Joseph's Catholic Primary School Como, St Michael's Catholic Primary School Daceyville, Domremy College Five Dock, and Brigidine College Randwick
  • Students from St Joseph's Catholic Primary School Como with Baxter the Koala at Taronga Zoo
  • St Michael's Catholic Primary School Daceyville students
  • Domremy College Five Dock students at Taronga Zoo