​FISO in focus: a collaborative approach to school bushfire preparedness

During the 2009 bushfires, the tiny town of Strathewen was devastated with 23 residents killed and its primary school totally destroyed. Since then the community has worked to rebuild its town and the new primary school, which was completed in October 2010.

Last month, at a meeting to discuss the Emergency Disaster Education Resilience project, Strathewen Primary School students gave a presentation on a recent collaborative project with their local Country Fire Authority (CFA).​ 

​​The students,​ Noel, Charlotte, Ruby, Rose and Harry screened their claymation video Survive and Thrive: If You Care, Stay Aware, Be Prepared which they wrote, filmed and produced themselves with technical assistance from locals during the school's annual Community Connections Day.

Strathewen Primary School Principal Jane Hayward and Arthurs Creek – Strathewen Fire Brigade volunteer Lisal O'Brien were on hand to support students during their presentation.

'Community Connections Day is about strengthening relationships between our children and​ the older members of our community. It's also a nice, positive connection related to fire danger and emergency management,' said Jane.

'Community engagement in learning, one of the statewide priorities of the Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO), is helping us to further strengthen our focus on community building. This is really important for us as a small school.  

'There's already a long waiting list of volunteers for this year's project, a picture story book featuring a range of different characters that will further those fire safe messages.'

The school's video has a strong bushfire preparedness message, delivered by claymation figures which the students designed and created.

The students conducted research before writing the script for the video, visiting nearby Healesville Sanctuary to observe how wildlife responds during bushfires, and making an excursion to Yan Yean Reservoir with local CFA members to learn how to manage fuel loads and reduce risk, and how to use scientific equipment to help calculate fire risk ratings.

The video was created through the Strathewen Fire Education Partnership – a joint project with Arthurs Creek – Strathewen Fire Brigade and Strathewen Primary School – after the students participated in the CFA Survive and Thrive education program. 

The students decided to produce the video to share their experience and knowledge about how to manage during the fire season, and how to keep their families safe.

Strathewen Primary School student Evelyn enjoyed being a part of the CFA education program that led to the school making the video.

'It was a good opportunity for our local schools because not many schools do this,' said Evelyn.

The video has received more than 1500 hits on social media sites and a DVD copy will be delivered to all local primary schools. The Department's Emergency Management Division and the CFA hope that other schools can use the video to share bushfire preparedness messages with students, staff and families in bushfire-prone areas.

'The student voice is very important with around 80 per cent of the wider community reached through school-aged children. This video showcases a collaborative approach to emergency management and encourages an active involvement in bushfire preparedness,' said Michelle Roberts, Psychologist and Manager, Student Incident Recovery Unit.

To further empower students and ensure their voices are heard, Strathewen Primary has forged a strong connection with Anglesea Primary School and the students have taken part in fire-ready workshops in a coastal setting.

'Our students have learned and shared a lot in those workshops. It is a great example of how we focus on empowering students and building school pride, which is one of the FISO high-impact initiatives. There's a whole lot of learning around fire risk down that way and having this knowledge is very powerful,' said Jane.

The RSG Emergency Management Division (EMD) provides support to Emergency Management Victoria's (EMV) Strategic Action Plan 4 (SAP4), working with external emergency management agencies including State Emergency Serivce (SES), CFA, MFB, Ambulance Victoria, EMV and Life Saving Victoria on developing combined natural disaster resources for the school sector.​

To view the video, see: Survive and Thrive, a bushfire message from Strathewen Primary

A behind-the-scenes clip is also available to view, see: Behind the Scenes – Survive and Thrive