Real-life learning focus at new Snells Beach college

Horizon School – a state-integrated Christian School in Snells Beach – opens its doors to college-age students next year,  making it Rodney’s newest secondary school. Mahurangi Matters spoke to principal Helen Pearson about what makes the school different …

College students turning up to Horizon School for the first time next year will find its approach to education differs markedly from a traditional school.

For starters, they will not be presented with a timetable that neatly allocates time slots for different subject areas, such as English, maths and science. Nor will they complete assignments merely to meet the demands of the curriculum and have them graded.

Rather they will be involved in what principal Helen Pearson calls “real-life” learning. Children might learn about hospitality and business by helping run the school café, they will learn about agriculture by managing and operating the school’s farm, and they will be learning about human development by getting involved in teaching and supervising at a pre-school, which is located on the school’s campus.

Helen Pearson

A preschool is on campus.

Helen says as far as possible the idea is to get children working on things that are purposeful and where teachers may very well be involved in learning new things, just as much as their students.

“What we really want to create is a learning community of children and adults. So, we are all learning together and young people get to experience real life rather than it being – ‘oh this is what I have to do to get a mark’,” she says.

The philosophy is already embedded in Horizon’s current primary school. In one example, students learned about local government not from an academic textbook, but by making a submission to Council for a proposed playground on Snells Beach Reserve.

Students surveyed children on what they would like to see in a playground, talked to playground manufacturers, made drawings of what the playground might look like, costed the playground and made presentations on it to the local ratepayer’s association. The net result was the children succeeded in securing the playground.

Helen says the whole exercise was extremely motivating for students and a lot of fun at the same time. Moreover, it neatly integrated various branches of learning – arts, maths, English and social science, all to achieve a tangible outcome.

The phrase “integrated learning” crops up a lot when Helen speaks about the school’s approach. In her view, when you are talking about trees, you should not just look at the biological aspect. Instead, you get a far richer view if you consider their economic, environmental and practical uses, and, at the same time, the inspiration they provide for art and poetry.

For this reason, Helen welcomes the abandonment of National Standards, which she feels were too narrowly focused on literacy and numeracy and provided too few opportunities for the integrated and real-life learning she favours.

She says Horizon’s integrated approach is also evident in its Christian ethos. She says as spirituality is a part of human experience, it’s a shame that it’s largely excluded from mainstream schools.

At Horizon, students are invited to read the Bible and pray during lessons and develop a relationship with God, but there is no compunction should a student decide that it’s not for them. In this way, the school has attracted students from spiritually-minded families, who are not necessarily Christian.
“Schools need to become much more about places of belonging and places of community and recognising the wholeness of people,” Helen says.