A profit

How a small coun­try school turninga from farm­ing

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

Two years ago, Huk­erenui School had a block of land that wasn’t be­ing well used. Much of the area was out of bounds for the chil­dren and the school’s care­taker was spend­ing hours mow­ing all the ex­cess grassy space.

That’s when a group of Year 6 stu­dents had a brain­storm­ing ses­sion and came up with a va­ri­ety of agri­cul­tural and hor­ti­cul­tural projects which would make best use of the land and pro­vide real-life learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the en­tire school.

Since then, helped by an en­thu­si­as­tic lo­cal com­mu­nity, the Huk­erenui stu­dents have grown and sold maize, re­claimed a plot of na­tive bush, planted laven­der gar­dens, made nat­u­ral reme­dies, de­vel­oped the ex­ist­ing bee­hives and used the beeswax and honey to pro­duce balms, planted an or­chard, and de­vel­oped a pad­dock where they now graze al­pacas. They col­lect al­paca poo for their bud­ding fruit trees, make fra­grant hand creams and lip balms from their own laven­der and manuka, and learn about sus­tain­abil­ity and so­cial en­ter­prise in a to­tally hands-on way. The list of projects ini­tially pro­posed by the stu­dents was am­bi­tious by any­one’s stan­dards, but ev­ery one of their ideas has been suc­cess­fully in­cor­po­rated into the school’s cur­ricu­lum, and they are now us­ing 71% of the land ef­fec­tively for ed­u­ca­tion.

Huk­erenui prin­ci­pal Basti­enne Kruger is a vi­sion­ary and dy­namic leader, but she says the bulk of the work was un­der­taken by four girls who formed the school’s Com­mu­nity Prob­lem Solv­ing Team, which is part of New Zealand’s Fu­ture Prob­lem Solv­ing Pro­gramme for the gifted and tal­ented. The girls came up with the con­cepts and then man­aged ev­ery sin­gle step along the way, from or­gan­is­ing the maize con­trac­tors to pre­par­ing teach­ing re­sources, les­son plans and teach­ing classes.

Prob­lem solvers El­iza Rock­ell, Katie Barnes, Jas­mine Hayes and Makenna Purvis, along with coach Basti­enne have been well-re­warded com­pet­i­tively for their ef­forts. They won the Fu­ture Prob­lem Solv­ing Na­tional Fi­nals in Auckland, then raised $35,000, flew to Amer­ica in June 2015 to com­pete at the In­ter­na­tional Fi­nals, and were named over­all grand champions of the pri­mary school di­vi­sion.

“I had 12 in my team to start with, but ended up with just those four girls re­main­ing, be­cause it’s such a big job and it’s so hard,” says Basti­enne. “It was stun­ning they did all of that in one year.

They worked hol­i­days, week­ends and there were some tears, es­pe­cially get­ting ready for the com­pe­ti­tion.

“It’s a huge project and you do need a strong be­liever in it. I was able to cre­ate it in such a way with them that it was pos­si­ble. Things must be sus­tain­able. There is no point plant­ing beau­ti­ful flow­ers if they need to be re­planted ev­ery sea­son. Last year was mas­sive, but this is the fun part – now the pro­gramme prac­ti­cally drives it­self.” Huk­erenui School has about 100 stu­dents from Years 0-8. Ar­rive early on a spring morn­ing and there are im­me­di­ately vis­i­ble signs that this isn’t your av­er­age pri­mary school.

A bunch of stu­dents are clus­tered in the gar­den pick­ing laven­der to start their day. The laven­der will be turned into hy­drosol and es­sen­tial oil in the school’s own still, and then made into hand-cream by stu­dents for their end-of-year mar­ket day. The mar­ket day, where stu­dents sell prod­ucts they’ve made, is another of the prob­lem solvers’ so­lu­tions, pro­vid­ing learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties around en­ter­prise as stu­dents fo­cus on cost, profit and ad­ver­tis­ing.

Be­sides the laven­der pick­ers, there is an adorable group of new en­trants dressed in bee-keeper suits, watch­ing as bees are smoked in the school’s hive, ea­gerly look­ing for lar­vae and ev­i­dence of honey be­ing pro­duced. A group of Year 2 boys and girls who’ve just learned how to make felt from the al­paca fi­bre have donned gloves and are scoop­ing up al­paca poo for the or­chard.

It makes your heart soar to see all these young stu­dents hap­pily en­gaged in their learn­ing, whether they are weed­ing grass out of the maize crop or at­tempt­ing the

chal­leng­ing task of turn­ing al­paca fi­bre into balls of wool on the school’s spin­ning wheels. There is none of the usual sweaty feet smell in class­rooms; in­stead, de­li­cious scents of manuka and laven­der linger in the air.

Huk­erenui doesn’t have be­havioural prob­lems ei­ther says Basti­enne.

“I’ve dis­cov­ered that, es­pe­cially with in­ter­me­di­ate-age boys, learn­ing is much more in­ter­est­ing if it has a pur­pose. I call it 3-D learn­ing. If the pad­dock needs some fer­tiliser, they have to cal­cu­late how big the field is and how much fer­tiliser they need to get.”

As we over­hear some Year 6 stu­dents knowl­edge­ably dis­cussing pre-emer­gent spray, Huk­erenui Year 6, 7 and 8 teacher Prem Jor­dan agrees.

“We are in­cor­po­rat­ing fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy and bud­get­ing into the maize grow­ing, which is maths. We’re look­ing at job cre­ation, which is so­cial sci­ence, and the dif­fer­ent hy­brids of maize, which is sci­ence. We also come out and watch the

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