Our garden, our tūrangawaewae

Issue: Volume 101, Number 10

Posted: 10 August 2022
Reference #: 1HAVPT

A project to transform the garden at Arapohue School allowed ākonga to create, collaborate and connect both with their wider community and with Papatūānuku, to strengthen tūrangawaewae.

When Danya Hewetson arrives at Arapohue School in rural Northland, tamariki are on red alert, ready to go.

Arapohue School children took ownership of every aspect of their garden project from landscaping through to fine art. Photo by Mac Piper.

Arapohue School children took ownership of every aspect of their garden project from landscaping through to fine art. Photo by Mac Piper.

“Is it our turn today? When is our turn?” they ask, eager to get to work in the garden.

Danya has been working with ākonga as part of Creatives in Schools, a programme designed to support student wellbeing through provision of creative learning experiences.

Her partnership with Arapohue School to design and develop an interactive garden has captured students’ imagination far beyond anticipation and piqued the interest and engagement of whānau and the wider community. The mahi has become an exemplar of sustainability in action, a community working together.

“The community buy-in has been fantastic,” says Danya, a trained secondary teacher. “We’ve had parents, grandparents, past students and local businesses all get involved. There’s a lot of generosity in this community.”

Connecting indoor and outdoor spaces

The project started as a plan to improve the school’s outdoor spaces to ensure that the physical environment supported learning programmes.

“There was a complete disconnect between the classrooms and the playground,” says Danya. “There was a path that just ends, and in winter there was no way to get to the playground without having to run through mud. I thought it would be great to fill that area with something more engaging, so that was the start of our conversations.”

The garden, Te Wā, was designed to foster children’s sense of belonging and connection to the school, to develop their creative skills, and to provide a space with restorative benefits.

“As a school, we have been exploring who we are and our connection to the whenua, the sustainability of the land and the life cycles of it and those it feeds,” says principal Kylie Piper.

“While we had a concept of a therapeutic garden including sensory paths, sculptures, carving, mosaic tiling, murals, play space and incorporating Rongoā Māori, we were keen to let our students complete learning inquiries to enable them to design their own projects, to encourage greater levels of engagement and ownership.”

Making it our place

Tamariki were extremely enthusiastic about the Te Wā project

Tamariki were extremely enthusiastic about the Te Wā project

Everyone wanted more trees, and ākonga – 40 students across Years 1–8 – had special requests for a mud kitchen with a café, a fairy garden, a relaxation spot, and a blackboard to use for scoring, games, and art. As part of the inquiry, the whole school explored public gardens in Dargaville and Whangārei, noting what they’d like back at Te Wā.

“We did a lot of intentional teaching around looking at the landscape design aspect of public and private spaces, how different spaces have different purposes,” says Danya. “In one area we decided to build raised beds planted in sections to relate to the five senses. The beds now contain flowers, a ceramic bird bath, bee stations, wind chimes, herbs, and fruit trees.”

Reuse, recycle, reconnect

In keeping with the school’s quest to be sustainable, most materials were either repurposed or donated by the community.

“The community embraced the project. We had heaps of cool donations such as totara fence posts from farmers and limestone from a family that has a quarry, which was delivered by a dad from a trucking company. Another dad brought in his digger to dig the koru and sensory paths, and these were later boxed up ready for concreting by a builder dad.”

The koru path has metal manu/bird sculptures positioned on a tree stump. It links to the playground and relates back to the school logo. The sensory, or “feelings path” has been laid with river stones, bamboo, bark, bricks, limestone, and scoria to create a variety of textural experiences.

Junior children created metal birds for the garden.

Junior children created metal birds for the garden.

A sponsor-a-plant fundraiser yielded more than 70 trees. Most of these were natives, to attract native birds, along with some fruit trees to address the taste aspect of the sensory garden, and as a starter for the school orchard.

Again, there was great enthusiasm from the community. Each tree comes with a copper tag on which the sponsor can write a message that stays on the tree as it grows, a continuing legacy.

“One of the things that surprised Kylie and me the most was how much past pupils and locals wanted to buy into that part of it,” says Danya. “It was awesome.”

A community working bee was highly successful, with 25 whānau and ex-ākonga showing up for hard physical work on a Saturday.

“There was path preparation, filling raised beds, putting down limestone, and putting in gardens – one for succulents and another to be planted with wildflowers in spring – and a lot of dirt moving!”

Adding personal touches

However, the mahi stretched far beyond design, digging and planting. Te Wā is decorated with fine art created by ākonga during weekly Make and Create sessions.

Junior children, Kākano, who had been investigating native birds and how to attract them to the māra, extended their learning by creating metal birds for the garden. This project, which started with tamariki drawing birds then refining them to silhouettes, was a huge undertaking made possible with help from Danya’s partner, Hamish Douglas, a graphic designer, and a school grandfather, Jeff Bibby, who had access to the necessary machinery. The corten steel, time, and process, which would have been prohibitively expensive, was donated.

Meanwhile, the middle children, Māhuri, used their learning about native trees as inspiration to plan and create an intricately painted border for the outdoor blackboard. This was a continuation of learning around symmetry, reflection, and rotation that they had been exploring in maths and art with Pacific-inspired print-making techniques.

Student in Years 7 and 8, Rākau, took on leadership roles, poring over ideas and plans to identify common themes then refine a plan. Rākau also took on the task of eco-sourcing seeds that would have the best chance of survival in Te Wā.

Danya says ākonga were the most enthusiastic she’d ever worked with. “The children have been amazing with their mahi. They’re practical and hands-on; they’ll shovel and dig. One boy turns up in his gumboots every Wednesday with his spade.”

Sustainable practices

Ākonga are proud to share their mahi with whānau.

Ākonga are proud to share their mahi with whānau.

 Te Wā encompasses a number of sustainable practices. With a whole school approach, all children were involved in decision making which allowed them to gain a strong sense of ownership. Whānau and community were highly engaged, allowing all to strengthen bonds both with each other and with whenua. Students’ mahi to develop the outdoor space allowed them to develop kaitiakitanga, and to gain an emotional connection to the land.

“At a grassroots level they’re out there getting dirty, they’re getting their hands and feet into the ground. There’s no stronger way for them to get a connection to their place; they’re contributing to it and they’re leaving their mark, their legacy,” says Danya. “That gives them a real sense of connectedness and a feeling of tūrangawaewae.”

Creatives in Schools

Creatives in Schools is designed to provide creative learning experiences that enhance the wellbeing of ākonga, and allow them to develop skills in communication, collaboration, and creativity.

The learning experiences are also designed to inspire interest in careers in the creative sector.

If your school is running a creative project in 2023, you are highly encouraged to apply for funding.

Schools, kura and creatives work together both to apply for funding and to deliver the programme. Projects are eight to 20 weeks, and for ākonga in Years 1 to 13.

Creatives in Schools is delivered by the Ministry of Education in partnership with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatū Taonga and Creative New Zealand.

Applications close 11.59pm Sunday 21 August 2022.

For more information, go to Creatives in Schools programme(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 12:30 pm, 10 August 2022

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts