Just over four years ago, Bullarto Primary School was on the verge of closure with just four pupils, three of whom were in grade six and heading off to high school.
The school, in the heart of the Wombat State Forest between Daylesford and Trentham, reinvented itself under the leadership of principal Jo Pegg, and this year opened with 18 pupils including a record seven preps.
Ms Pegg turned to the school's surroundings, and the wishes of the local community, for inspiration in rebuilding the school and trying to secure its future.
Nature and creativity are at the very heart of Bullarto Primary School.
"Our priority in the school is working with a nature pedagogy ... to improve student health and wellbeing and then using that to build our academic success," Ms Pegg said.
"An example of that is we had a lesson incorporating literacy, numeracy and science in one making different types of prints and inks from all the different types of nature in our grounds.
"And last week we went out blackberry picking, We walked down the road, picked blackberries, came back and kids cooked with them and made blackberry ink."
At Bullarto the children spend a lot of their time learning outdoors, and the school day starts with a round of 'chores' where each child has a job tending to the school's animals or harvesting produce from their garden.
And even in their spare time the children focus on nature-based activities.
"Our kids are very passionate about animals and nature. They are out collecting bugs and learning about the life cycle of bugs ... and at the moment even in the playground they're out catching and trying to breed skinks. We have a focus on literacy and numeracy but we have a lot of self-directed student learning too."
When she first took over the school in 2017, Ms Pegg asked the local community what they wanted from the school - and whether they wanted it to remain open.
"They told me they wanted the school to stay open and they had three priorities - to encompass nature, to create a music program and an art program."
As of last year when the music program began she had ticked off all three priorities.
"I had to do a lot of self teaching myself about nature because I came from a mainstream school but in the four years we've been able to deliver all the things the community wanted."
And it's helped build the school ... literally. The music teacher employed last year loved the school so much she enrolled her twins who are among the seven prep students this year.
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During the prep transition days during term four, the school's newest pupils planted vegetable seedlings which flourished over summer and gave them an instant link to the school on their first day when they rushed to check on the progress of the garden.
The increase in student numbers has allowed Ms Pegg to increase the teaching hours of her part-time teacher to full-time, allowing her a better balance of classroom teaching and principal and administration duties.
"It's been my aim over the last four years to have enough students to have a full-time teacher," she said.
And it's not just Bullarto families attending the school. In fact only one family is from the town and the rest travel from Daylesford, Trentham, Blackwood and other bushland areas nearby.
There's even a student enrolled, though yet to start at the school, who will be moving from England when COVID restrictions allow.
The Victorian family have researched schools and decided to move to Bullarto specifically to attend the school.
"They are stuck overseas due to COVID and, while living and working overseas, have researched schools and actually chose to move to Bullarto because of our school. The parents can work from home so they have decided to move to the area of the school."
Don't miss our Big Steps Little Feet feature from page 15 to 33.
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