Makoura College Year 10 pupils with a drone photo of the river area they’re working with, and some of their individual projects. Clockwise from left are Sam Kawana-Hutton, Mataio Kelly, Davao Prime, Te Rangiwhakawaitau Ihaia-Peters, and Kar’lee Rathbon. PHOTO/erin kavanagh-hall

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
On behalf of Makoura College

For one group of young Wairarapa residents, waiting around for the adults to spruce up their hometown wasn’t going to cut it.

So, they are using their school hours to help transform Masterton’s East Side – one native tree, mural, carving, and bird feeder at a time.

As part of its Project-Based Learning programme, Makoura College’s Te Kura Teina (junior school) is planning to redevelop the Waipoua riverside area at Colombo Rd – hoping to create an attractive and welcoming hang-out space, for both Masterton locals and native wildlife.

The Year 9 and 10 pupils have been working on the project since February when, while on a day trip, they noticed the space was sparse, overgrown and showing signs of neglect, and was barely used by the public.

While in class, the pupils have developed ideas for riparian planting, public amenities, gardening spaces, and general beautifications of the area.

They plan to present these ideas to Masterton District Council next term.

Project-Based Learning, which has been newly introduced to Makoura’s curriculum, has pupils working on large-scale projects which allow them to solve real-world problems, and develop their critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills in the process.

Joanne Paku, one of the three teachers facilitating Te Kura Teina’s project, said this had been an opportunity for the pupils to step up as leaders in the community.

“It’s a good lesson for the kids – to be an effective leader, you have to give up your time and make a commitment if you want to see things improve,” Ms Paku said.

“It’s no good to sit back and complain that the council’s not doing enough when there are things we can do ourselves to make positive changes.

“Young people live in an instantaneous world – adult groups move too slowly for them!

“So it’s been cool to watch them put that energy into practical solutions. They’re really enthusiastic.”

Ms Paku said Project-Based Learning had been adopted by Makoura this year, after staff travelled to other schools in the North Island to see the programme put in practice.

She and her fellow teachers wanted to base Te Kura Teina’s first project around the Waipoua River, given its significance to the tipuna of the area.

However, they were determined not to prompt the pupils and let them come up with their own observations.

“We took them out for a walk along the river one day in February – in the 28 degree heat,” Ms Paku said.

“We asked what they had noticed, and they said the area on Colombo Rd and down River Rd was in poor condition.

“When we asked what could be done about it, they said we could tidy it up, and plant some native trees so people would be attracted back to the area, and want to share it with the community.

“It just went from there.”

Since then, the pupils have been a fountain of ideas. Working in groups, they have written surveys to gain public feedback on redeveloping the area, researched the native plants that will best support both bird and aquatic life, designed garden furniture, scoped out the areas best suited for a community garden and orchard, and even drawn up plans for public toilets.

Some of the most creative ideas, Ms Paku said, have been “weta motels” to attract insect species, and houses and feeders for the protecting and nurturing of native birds.

“Some of the girls have been baking and selling cakes to fund the materials. I didn’t know they were doing that; the cakes just showed up in the cafeteria one day.

“They’re coming up with all sorts – we’ve got kids doing carvings [for a sculpture garden] and designing a big mural for the side of the old pump house by the river.

One of our guys has designed a sculpture made of old bike parts.

“They know if an area looks attractive and interesting, people will go there.”

As well as coming up with fundraisers to make their concepts a reality, the pupils will have to prepare themselves to present to the council – training themselves to speak confidently in a formal setting and making sure their models are “perfect and exactly to scale.”

Ms Paku said the project has been an opportunity to engage pupils “of all abilities”.

“They’ve learned to work together – making decisions, exploring ideas, arguing their point, learning to back down.

“Some of the quieter students have got more confident and are more willing to speak up.

“This is all helping to prepare them for the real world.”