How a small country school turninga from farming
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