Wanaka’s school for modern times

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Wanaka’s new primary school will celebrate diversity, says founding principal Jodie Howard.

The new school is planned to open at the start of the 2020 school year, accommodating up to 400 pupils, and a second phase is anticipated to allow for a further 300 pupils.

Education in schools had undergone a “huge change” over the decades, and there were many challenges to ensure the community knew what to expect from the new school, Mrs Howard said.

“There is a lot for parents to get their heads around, and so it is really important to make sure they are informed and understand the change.”

Flexible learning spaces was one key concept the Ministry of Education had been working on.

“That is all about providing the opportunity to collaborate, to work with children across different year levels, and to have children work across different class groups.”

One way of describing this was was campfires, watering holes and caves.

“Watering holes” were spaces where different people could gather and share ideas or thoughts, “campfires” enabled one person to speak to a group, while “caves” were places that were quiet and tucked away where one person could focus on a task on their own, like “writing or drawing”.

Flexible spaces also allowed for ideas like tuakana-teina, which was the Maori name for big buddy little buddy.

One buddy was an expert in something and the other buddy was a learner, she said.

However, flexible spaces did not have to mean large, noisy areas, she said.

The fear was sometimes that schools were “building big barns” where “children were all in this one big massive open space”.

That might have been the case in the early days, in some schools that were rebuilt after the Christchurch earthquake, but there were also opportunities for creating quiet, intimate spaces. Teachers could focus on a small group of pupils while larger group activities took place in a different area, Mrs Howard said.

Each pupil would still have one teacher and group they identified as their main class, with opportunities to break out into other groups throughout the day, Mrs Howard said.

The smaller group would allow connection “at the wellbeing level”.

“Which is where you can bring in that concept of whanau.”

Children were “going into a world that we don’t yet know what it is going to look like”, so key skills included communication, collaboration, citizenship and being a contributor, Mrs Howard said.

“What is the future going to be for our children, at the moment we don’t actually know – we are not necessarily preparing our children to step into a particular career.”

Two board members were working with Ngai Tahu to develop a cultural narrative for the school, “to honour our bicultural heritage”.

This would be represented both as a physical presence throughout the school and through “our vision and our values”, Mrs Howard said.

There would also be acknowledgement of the school’s place in a multicultural environment.

Understanding children and their family’s cultural backgrounds, “where their feet have stood” was an important part of celebrating diversity.

There was a large amount of work still to be achieved before the school opened, but a meeting planned for March 14 would provide more detail about what was anticipated for the school.

“It will be a good time for everyone to come and get some answers, we will have all the plans up, and we will have the architect there.

“It will be great to finally say ‘this is what it is going to look like’.”