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New ‘Mind-Blowing’ Kimi Ora School

The grins on Te Kura o Kimi Ora kids’ faces said it all last Tuesday morning [Oct 14], as they got their first look at their new learning spaces.

And it was not only the youngsters who were impressed. At the whānau welcome to the completely brand-new school, Hastings District councillor and Flaxmere Planning Committee member Peleti Oli told the crowd and principal Matt O’Dowda that he was “blown away”.

“Especially by Matt’s vision. He has really pushed the envelope to get the best possible school for these children and the ones who will come after them.”

The whānau day followed a formal blessing ceremony, held early on Monday morning [Oct 13]. “This is the most amazing school around; it’s beautiful, and it is blessed and ready for us – ready for our learning,” Matt told the whānau gathering.

He said the project had taken almost exactly five years, with the first meeting held on October 2, 2015. “There has been a lot of mahi, and there is still some more to do.”

The next stage would be the removal of the last of the old buildings. “That will be a sad day as we remember the times we have spent in there; the children who spent their school years there.”

But their removal would make space for even more wonderful spaces for the children; including a celestial compass and water play area.

The formal part of the morning was followed by a free-range tour of the new school. Innovation is everywhere, from the main office, which doubles as an art gallery featuring works by Ngati Kahungunu artists, to the stunning open-plan functional learning spaces.

There is so much to see, from the kitchens – a junior school version at one end, senior at the other; recording studio; library carousels dotted throughout the spaces; an indoor climbing rope ladder up to a chill-out zone; mini-auditorium and, of course, up-to-the-minute chairs and shared tables.

And that does not even touch the outside. The playground was officially opened at the end of Term 3 and the community had been making the most of it ever since.

That had been planned by the students at every level – from talking to the community about its dreams for what is a whole-of-community outdoor space, planning and presenting ideas to Hastings District Council (which assisted with planning funding), to working with the designers to see their ideas come to life, then planting and mulching.

The outside spaces are just as important to learning as the inside, said Matt, the day after its official opening.

The layout of the playground reflects the journey of Māori and Pasifika across the Pacific Ocean to Aotearoa. “The pou, carved by noted Hawke’s Bay carver Nathan Foote, waka and traditional pa site together tell the story of the journey that brought Ngati Kahungunu here.”

There are also a whole lot of elements that tie into health and well-being, fitness and future-focused learning, including native plants and growing, cycling (on the newly extended limestone cycle track that is set to grow even further), sports areas including an already hugely popular basketball pad, and a skatepark.

“Our kids will be as fit as – we can’t keep them off it,” says Matt.

Of great importance to the school is that the playground is a space for the whole community – any time, all of the time. To help draw them in, an outdoor cooking area has barbecues and shade. “We want to see it busy all of the time; during school, after school, at weekends and during the holidays,” said Matt.

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