Originally published in Live Magazine, March 2022
Green School New Zealand is a school environment that intentionally strays from the fleeting drop-off and pick-up rituals of traditional schooling. Parents are encouraged to stay, join in the learning, watch things unfold in the classroom, utilise the co-working space or visit the market garden.
Head of school, Caroline Rennie, says offering learning opportunities and a place for parents to build meaningful connections does not only bring even more life to the vibrant campus, but is essential for the world we live in.
“To best address the problems of today’s world, there is a need for entire communities to engage in learning.”
She speaks of organic gardening sessions, or parent skill-sharing workshops – each not only a sustainable learning opportunity, but a social experience that offers support, connection and personal growth.
“We place huge importance on the holistic happiness of our learners. This includes their whānau. Our current families reach out to incoming families and invite them to experience community coffee mornings at the beach, surfing sessions, yoga and early morning river swims, as well as carpooling and other logistical support.”
And that support is also transferred out into the community, says Whaea Caroline.
“GSNZ families are very service oriented. We have families who volunteer as firefighters, help with conservation projects, coach sport, contribute to art and business, and sponsor events, not to mention the time and commitment they offer the school. We are in awe of the loyalty and support they regularly show.”
Whaea Caroline says the Green School community is a diverse fusion of cultures, languages, and those from different lifestyles, which she hopes will have the opportunity to increase as New Zealand border restrictions ease.
“We have a special village of people within our beautiful, quintessential, Kiwi landscape.”
Meet a few of our Green School families and find out what they’re enjoying about life at Green School, and life in Taranaki…
Dan and Dana Gaddum
For Dan and Dana Gaddum, a move to Taranaki was sparked by the opportunity for their free-spirited daughters Ava (13) and Frankie (11) to experience an education that differed from the structure of school tradition.
While many sacrifices were made for it to happen, they felt the girls’ education deserved to take priority.
“The vision of the school is impressive. Once we looked deeper, it all started to resonate,” says Dan.
“We didn’t know much about Taranaki and didn’t appreciate how cool it was. Then we went onto the campus and that completely blew our mind. Then we met some of the staff and after that it was like well, this is what we have to do, let’s work out how we get everything in order to make it happen.”
While the sustainability ethos of the school was a nice-to-have, it wasn’t the main driver for the Gaddums.
“We were attracted to an environment that was going to teach our kids to critically think, be good citizens, and be successful leaders in their area of passion,” says Dan.
“I think we underestimate what confidence can do for kids’ learning abilities and how much that helps them succeed in life, and that’s one thing they really get from Green School.”
While Dan owns a forestry company that is actively implementing sustainable industry practices and collaborating with local businesses, wife Dana is an author and illustrator. They say the life they’ve created over the past year in Taranaki is ticking all the boxes.
With a love for horses, fishing, diving, surf club, and everything in between, Dan says he feels like they’re living in the west coast version of his home town, Gisborne. And that’s a good thing, by the way.
They say they’ve never felt as connected to a school community as they do in Taranaki.
“It’s made up of a fantastic range of people from different walks of life, but they all have a reasonably common purpose,” says Dan.
“We’re thrilled to be here. You think about if we’d not done it, what we’d be missing out on, and that’s pretty tough to imagine.”
Simeon Duncombe & Amber Varde
Simeon and Amber came to Taranaki for the innovative and progressive natural environment that Green School offers.
With a 5-year-old son who lives for nature, they couldn’t be happier to have found somewhere that supports his interests and is focused on entrepreneurship, wellbeing and building strong relationships.
“We quickly knew when Nakoa was little that the outdoors was his happy place,” says Simeon.
“Already he’s coming home and telling us what he’s done at school, and he absolutely loves Tuesday Nature Day,” adds Amber.
The family are recent arrivals from Wellington, where Simeon had moved to in 2003 to work on Lord of the Rings with Weta Digital. The skilled Animation Supervisor says in his short time in Taranaki, he sees a number of parallels between where he was 18 years ago, and now.
“We were a bunch of people from all over the world who came down to Welly for Lord Of The Rings. We didn’t know anyone, but suddenly found ourselves in this community of like-minded people coming for the same purpose and quite quickly you start to share the same vibes. There’s a certain chemistry there that feels easy.”
Having recently bought a house in New Plymouth, Amber says they’re looking forward to exploring more of the place that “no one ever has a bad word to say about”.
“We’re very grateful to those we’ve met who have welcomed us so nicely. All of the actions we’ve experienced have really helped us reaffirm our decision to come here.”
And for Simeon, he’s been enjoying wearing board shorts again and getting in the ocean – something the Gold Coast native didn’t do too much of in Wellington.
“It feels so much more like Australia here which is nice. It has that nostalgic feel for me.”
Flavio Vianna and Elisa Roorda
Flavio and Elisa are true pioneers of Green School New Zealand. Originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil, they and their three children (Nina, 13, Sofia, 10, and Martin, 4) were one of the first international families to join the community.
Their spirit and passion has been a vibrant addition to Taranaki, as is their willingness to help establish a “guide book” of sorts for families moving here in future.
After leaving a fast-paced life in Brazil where Flavio operated an Advertising Agency (and still does from afar) and Elisa ran an innovative community centre, they found themselves in New Zealand seeking freedom, adventure, and a more diverse way of living and learning. Although their plans were originally short term, they now have a house in construction and their kids are taking to “the Kiwi way”.
“We came not knowing how long we would stay, and all of a sudden we just started to grow roots,” says Elisa.
“There’s been some really hard moments, but we feel part of this community now. It’s a special place to live and so amazing to live close to the sea and the mountain.”
They both laugh at the cultural differences they’ve come to witness, particularly how friendships are formed, and how Kiwis like to work for everything.
“Even when you go to the beach you take a spade and want to dig and build and work,” laughs Elisa. “In Brazil, we go to relax!”
Flavio says while in South America, you might meet someone on the beach for the first time, invite them home for lunch and become best friends, it is different in New Zealand.
“It took us a while to understand that there was this difference. That it takes much longer to make friendships, but when you do, they are very good ones.”
He was also a little disappointed to realise his exceptional “DIY” skills did not make him as special as he was considered in Sao Paulo.
“DIY is not big in Brazil, so I was very sought-after by friends and family who needed things. Here, everybody does DIY, so I’ve had to realise that I am not that special anymore,” he laughs.
Flavio and Elisa say seeing their children learn in a natural, innovative and far more diverse community than what they would have had in Brazil has helped them through some of the hard times, such as Covid-19 border restrictions limiting the school community from growing.
Their vivacious spirit shows they are proud to be a part of something that is changing the education landscape.
“Going into our third year we feel settled now,” says Flavio. “There are many things we’re looking forward to. Seeing the school’s scholarship programme grow so the community can continue to become more diverse is very important, and we see this moving in a great direction.”