One of the unforeseen consequences of recent Covid lockdowns has been a re-evaluation of education, by both teachers and parents.
Warkworth teacher Joy Leigh says the lockdowns have provided a moment in time for exploring alternative methods of education as parents took on the role of at-home teachers.
“The education sector has stepped off the treadmill for the first time in 100 years and parents are suddenly asking what the purpose of their child’s education is,” she says.
“In lockdown, soft skills like resilience were more important than maths, and there is a huge gap for those type of skills in mainstream education.”
Committed to filling that gap, Joy is working towards opening an independent primary school in Warkworth next year.
She says the Nikau School will be an innovative mix of the Montessori method and outdoor education.
There are already outdoor schools in the area including the Mangawhai Nature School and The Forest School at Hatfields Beach. Children from regular schools attend one day a week or on multiple days if they are home schooled.
Joy says these schools place a greater emphasis on connecting with the natural world, taking the view that basing education entirely indoors limits a child’s learning.
In her quest to set-up the new school, Joy will spend this year getting Ministry of Education registration, finding a suitable site and getting a resource consent.
Pinehurst School has donated a classroom for the project and Joy is looking for land on a centrally located arterial route. She already has one offer on Matakana Road at a generously low rate.
“The main challenge for me is time. I have three children under five and a small business, and I also help my husband with his business.”
But she is encouraged by the interest shown already. Within a week of announcing online her intention to set-up a new school, she had 80 expressions of interest and they continue to trickle in.
She has also had two offers, by a teacher and a marketing person, to volunteer their services to help get the project off the ground. She is working on the Nikau School concept with two other local teachers, Tia Wooller and Jane Watson, who have Montessori experience.
Joy envisages that the school will start with a small class of around 20 students aged six to nine. This will enable the school to build relationships with the children and deliver a holistic learning environment where curiosity and independent learning can flourish. A classroom for children aged nine to 12 would follow.
“The big picture is to have a playgroup for children from age zero and be able to continue a child’s education through to age 18,” Joy says.
“The idea is that at the end of their schooling they will be more well-rounded from having great relationships with teachers who support their passions and will be more aware of who they are.”
She believes that the next couple of years will see more independent schools spring up as disaffected teachers, impacted by vaccine mandates, seek to leave the state school system.
Joy herself was a teacher for eight years, mainly at Matakana School, but has been on maternity leave.