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ACG Sunderland’s award-winning junior seal warriors

What initially began as a fun and educational research programme on seals quickly became an award-winning project for class 1CS and teacher Cass Sealy. The student's passion, dedication, knowledge and enthusiasm helped them win the Auckland Zoo’s Take action for Taiao competition – a conservation initiative to raise awareness and encourage young learners to help protect the natural environment.
ACG Sunderland’s Year 1CS class are award-winning junior seal warriors

Want to know anything about New Zealand seals? Just ask ACG Sunderland’s Year 1CS!

During the lockdown, the children took part in some serious seal research. They signed up as ‘junior seal warriors’ (they look out for seals on their local coastlines and report any sightings to the Department of Conservation), and they’ve earned themselves some much-admired Coastal Protector medals. Not only that, but they made some amazing posters and speeches about how to treat and take care of Auckland’s seal population.

“I decided lockdown was the perfect opportunity to get our tamariki working on conservation issues, so I organised a Zoom assembly to introduce them to New Zealand seals,” says 1CS teacher Cass Sealy.

“I then challenged them to a school-wide competition to learn more about seals and how important they are to us all. Our tamariki are the next generation to take control of our wildlife, so it is fundamental that we educate them.”

Seals are a species Cass has been deeply passionate about for many years. Outside of the classroom, she’s a member of DOC’s SOS (Seal Observation Squad), a group of volunteers tasked with educating the public about seal behaviour and how we should behave around them. She’s also a volunteer for Project Jonah and dedicates a great deal of her time to New Zealand marine mammal protection and rescue. Sharing her knowledge and experiences with her Year 1CS students is part of what she loves – and it’s pretty clear her students love it too!

“I learned a lot about the seals. I also enjoyed making the video about seals. I like to protect animals,” says six-year-old Eason Sun.

Adds Marco Zhao (5), “I love the seals, and I liked learning more about them.”

Meanwhile, researching seals for Year 1NG student Charlie Whalan (5) has opened up a whole new world. He says, “My favourite thing about learning about the ocean is now when the tide is all the way out, and I can go to the front of Lion Rock because I can see both beaches and rock pools I have never seen before.” 

And if that wasn’t enough, Cass also entered her class into the recent Take action for Taiao competition – a community-centred conservation initiative with Auckland Zoo and Mazda New Zealand, which was open to schools across the country. They took top honours there too, winning first place!

The Take action for Taiao contest asked young students to identify a conservation issue in their local community and explore ways they can make a difference. 

“We took our learning about the seals, and we developed that into a bigger project with the posters and speeches about seals,” explains Cass. “The students were competing against hundreds of primary and intermediate schools from all over New Zealand and really impressed the judges even though they are so young. I am super proud of them because they all worked incredibly hard on the project - and they won!”

Despite their fledgling status, the five and six-year-olds so inspired the judges with their posters and speeches that they were selected as one of three winners for the entire competition. Both the Conservation Learning team at Auckland Zoo and the judges over at Mazda NZ were delighted by 1CS and their outstanding efforts in helping to raise awareness about acting safely around marine mammals in the local area. Judge Lizzy from Auckland Zoo even made a short video to congratulate the class and explain why they were awarded first-place honours, which you can see below.

Cass’s penchant for seals is clearly having a big impact on her students - but why is she so passionate about these furry, photogenic, semiaquatic mammals?

“People joke that it’s because of my name, but that’s just a lucky coincidence! I am passionate about all nature, as my background is working in nature and adventure education for primary ages so bringing it into the class is important to me.”