Shinns Down Under travel blog

Kaitao Middle School Entrance

Young Girl Singing Us In

Teacher & Student

Inside Mobile Dental Clinic

NZ's Tunnel of Trees

Hobbitton Info Center

Sue and a New Friend?


Tues., Oct. 29th

We reluctantly departed Rotorua this morning, stopping on our way out of town at the Kaitao Middle School. What a joy it was! It almost made me want to come out of retirement! The school has such a wonderful philosophy. Posted all over is their motto: “Kia Puawai i Roto i te Whanaungatanga” - Blossom within the Family. The school has about 400 7 & 8th graders (so every year, they lose half of their students, and receive about half again as new students!). About 70% are Maori, 20% Pakeha (white) and 10% are Pacific Islanders. They greeted us in the traditional Maori way, one girl singing us in. The principal gave the welcome in Maori, the students sang a Maori song, we did the Hongi (pressing noses) and the students performed for us, yes, a haka!

The students choose their course of study and always get their first choice: Discovery (science), Expression (music, art, drama), Te Puna Reo (Maori language immersion), Were Matauranga (sports), Adventure Learning (for those three years below grade level to go on excursions, then read and write about the experience, usually “graduating” from this within a year), Accelerate (for advanced learners). Of course, they have Standards of Learning. In fact, there is a National Curriculum on top of what the school offers.

The school emphasizes four Core Values – Responsibility, Respect, Honesty and Compassion – and students get a small award when observed doing one of these. As the awards accumulate, so do the rewards, called “flashes”. We might call them “badges”. The values change each week when the principal reads a story on the school TV. It was so neat, with animation and music even. The students are given worksheets about the Core Value being stressed. One of the Core Values, Compassion, is evidenced by the students giving back to the community. They earn money to wear old clothes one day, or “wild hair” day, and the money raised is given for a project for the community, perhaps an environmental project.

Attendance and Promptness are also rewarded: if a class has no absences or tardies for the week, they receive a $20 voucher, second place gets $10, third place $5. The money goes to a field trip. Nothing like a bribe to get kids to school: Last year, one class went to Beijing! The Core Values, attendance & promptness encourage PB4L – Positive Behavior for Learning.

Language studies are given in Chinese, French, Spanish and Maori. Twenty-one different sports are offered. Audio-visual and pixel art are also studied with a recording studio on campus that gets contracts from outside customers. Check out their u-tube site!

Now if you think this is the crème de la crème of NZ education, think again. Although every child has a tablet, shoes are optional…you see, some of the families can’t afford shoes. (The tablets are on loan.) This is a level two school, level one being the poorest of the poor, level 10 the wealthiest.

Don’t you see what I mean about teaching here?

As we left, we passed the mobile dental clinic. NZ offers free dental care to all children from 5-18!

Then we drove through beautiful dairy country, stopping for a rest at MataMata, or Hobbiton. When Peter Jackson, NZ movie director, was looking for sites to film “Lord of the Rings”, he set his helicopter down on a farm nearby. Set designers went to work, building the little hobbit houses for the sets, right in the hillsides. Since this was on private property, the owner has capitalized on the luck of the draw. We were given hobbit names: Ivy and Til Loamsdown of Deephallow, and wore our new name badges proudly all day.

From there, we drove through Fitzgerald Glen, a stretch of road totally covered over by tree canopy. The road engineer had to negotiate with the Maori tribe to clear this section of road of the trees. Maori believe if a tree is cut down without any atonement to the Forest God for attacking his child (the tree), evil will occur. Atoning for each tree added great expense to the road project, so only those absolutely necessary were taken down. As we drove under the trees, it reminded D&I of the Tunnel of Trees in Michigan! And to add emphasis to this comparison, the road engineer was Edmund Fitzgerald. My Michigan friends will get the connection!

We stopped at a lovely place for lunch in Gordonton called the Woodlands. Nice finger food for lunch, a cake to celebrate another birthday, then a stroll through their extensive gardens, all created by volunteers.

After lunch we continued on to Auckland with much good discussion of various topics ( child abuse in NZ, gay rights, farming concerns, international companies owning land, etc.) and arrived just before dinner at our lovely hotel. As we were waiting for our room key, a gentleman approached us and asked, “Mr. Shinn?” He was the Regional Manager for Grand Circle Tours, asking us about our tour. All we could say was raves!

Our room is quite lovely, overlooking a garden terrace on the third floor, huge bathroom with separate bath tub and glass shower. Some people across the way are exercising in the workout room, but we’re too tired to even go to dinner! I’m shoring up my energy for -

TOMORROW: Sailing on a 50’ America’s Cup vessel!!!! Our final day…



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