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An Island, A Classroom
ZEALANDIA Ecosanctuary

An Island, A Classroom

By Perry Hyde

The Education Team at ZEALANDIA is both party and witness to an ecological movement unprecedented in Aotearoa. Schools nationwide have become increasingly eager and active participants in the predator-free initiatives of their local communities. In the valley, we take every opportunity to equip our young visitors with both a take-home message and a take-home plan-of-action. With schools, communities and sanctuaries working in unison, great swathes of land are destined for recovery, and so too rises a new generation with the principles, passion and experience to carry the kaupapa forward.

New Zealand’s southernmost school is a shining example of the active role of education in conservation efforts.  With a mere 32 students, Halfmoon Bay School (Oban - Rakiura/Stewart Island) certainly punches above its weight. That should come as no surprise – the little town of Oban hugs a small and idylic shore on the edge of Rakiura National Park. The park constitutes 85% of the island’s area and is home to many wonderful yet vulnerable species, including some 15,000 tokoeka kiwi which outnumber human residents fifty-to-one. Predator-free Te Wharawhara/Ulva Island is a stone’s-throw away. For the children of Rakiura, the natural world is quite literally on their doorstep.

Kath Johnson has been the school’s principal for ten years. Recently, she has been working closely with the Department of Conservation as part of the Royal Society’s Science Teaching Leadership Programme, an intensive professional-development course which aims to boost the implementation of science-based learning at candidate schools. She endeavours to place science, particularly as it pertains to the unique environment of Rakiura, at the centre of all learning.

“The whole island is our classroom,” she proudly declares.

And indeed it is. Learning extends far beyond the school yard. Lessons at Halfmoon Bay School are aimed at empowering students to directly assist the local community and environment. Whether it is written works for a local bulletin, participation in trapping operations, planting and weeding or guiding peers from the mainland, students of the school are frequently engaged in applying the fruits of tuition outside the conventional classroom. Kath’s recent experiences will further enhance the school’s capabilities to direct and deliver such learning programmes.

Kath’s approach to teaching involves a high-degree of integration, actively blurring  boundaries between lessons and subjects.

“Learning shouldn’t be compartmentalised – it should be ongoing,”

Programmes are being constantly developed in response to community challenges. One of the proposed projects for Halfmoon Bay School in 2018 is a “BioBlitz” – a 24-hour data-haul of the ecosystem surrounding the nearby waterway of Mill Creek. Throughout the year, students will monitor everything from organism populations to water quality. Depending on what they find, they might not remain passive observers.

“We’ll be asking ourselves many questions like ‘What isn’t there that should be? What can we do? Did our actions make an impact? Why or why not?’”

Such questions are now being asked all over the country including, of course, at ZEALANDIA. Inspiring people such as the students, teachers and principal of Halfmoon Bay school will shed light on the answers. Through our interaction with them both here in the valley and further afield, it becomes clear that ZEALANDIA is part of something much bigger: an ecological movement blossoming in and by the hands of the next generation.

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