Imagine a school where the architecture breathes with the rhythm of nature, where every corner is bathed in the soft glow of natural light, and where the very design of the buildings sparks curiosity and creativity in every student, parent, and teacher who walks through its doors. Welcome to Green School New Zealand, where the journey towards a brighter, more sustainable world begins.
In 2018, Green School embarked on a transformative journey, converting a dairy farm into a thriving, regenerative campus. Local artisans, driven by respect, passion, and grit, worked hand in hand to bring this vision to life. Caroline Rennie, the Head of School at Green School New Zealand, affirms, “When designing the school, we endeavored to have the lightest environmental footprint possible, employing sustainable materials, regenerative design principles, and local labor to support our community.”
What sets Green School apart is its commitment to inspiring awe and wonder in learners. The school’s buildings intentionally curve and flow, inviting abundant light and offering captivating views of the surrounding nature from every classroom. Take the award-winning Kina building, for instance, inspired by the sea urchin. It’s a biophilic-inspired masterpiece designed to enhance cognitive function and emotional well-being – a pioneering benchmark for the future of learning facilities.
Caroline Rennie explains, “We could have built it out of traditional materials, but then, what are we modeling for the future? Our campus is intentionally different to help our learners break free from conventional thinking about schools or buildings.” She envisions a future where every aspect of Green School, from sourcing food to energy generation, demonstrates a more hopeful path.
Green School understands the science behind our surroundings, employing principles of environmental psychology. As Rennie puts it, “Every shape, pattern, and texture in our environment influences our thoughts and actions.” The round shapes and open spaces at Green School make everyone feel safer, more relaxed, and infinitely more creative – a perfect environment for the Green School way of learning.
Blending Nature and Education
Nestled on what was once grazing land just outside New Plymouth, Green School is a vibrant tapestry of nature and education. The campus, meticulously replanted with native species, is crisscrossed by the Ōakura River, offering students a unique opportunity to connect with the natural world. It’s a place where the environment isn’t just a backdrop; it’s an integral part of the curriculum.
The school boasts native forest areas (ngahere), a small wetland, lush gardens, and even a tropo-house (greenhouse). Caroline Rennie emphasizes, “We make the most of our natural surroundings with our nature immersion program, Taiao Rumaki. On these special days, our youngest learners spend their entire school day outdoors, engaging in structured activities and free play. It’s all about nurturing our innate connection with nature and embracing the Te Ao Māori concept of tuakana teina.”
At Green School, each term revolves around a unique theme, from “Awakening Sensory Awareness” to “Restoring the Bond Between People and Nature.” These themes are inspired by the works of environmental educator David Sobel, particularly his stages of environmental readiness and Native American wisdom from “The Coyote’s Guide.”
The campus isn’t just a passive backdrop; it’s a living laboratory for students of all ages. Middle and High School learners engage in planting and growing, exploring natural science, native flora and monitoring river water quality. The outdoor education program, known as Hikoi, culminates in the prestigious Duke of Edinburgh Programme (DOE), guided by Matua Damian Firth. Paddling along the Ōakura River, venturing into the native bush, and exploring the nearby Kaitake and Mount Taranaki areas are all part of this enriching experience.
However, the daily interaction between students and nature truly sets Green School apart. From tending to gardens and animals to playing in the gentle embrace of the campus river or embarking on nature hikes, every day is an immersive journey. Through their five senses, students develop a profound connection with the environment, nurturing a biocentric and empathetic worldview. Caroline Rennie pinpoints, “Nature has much to teach us, and when learners regularly interact with nature, they develop a relationship with it.” This immersion in nature not only holds therapeutic value but also enhances learner well-being, instilling in them the spirit of Earth’s guardianship.
Empowering Students the Green School Way
At the heart of Green School’s educational philosophy lies a sincere commitment to the environment. The school aims to nurture learners for life, fostering curiosity, well-being, and a deep connection with our planet. It’s an approach that empowers students to uncover their agency and purpose. Caroline Rennie describes, “We offer a comprehensive curriculum that weaves sustainability into every subject, equipping our learners with 21st-century skills to drive positive change and sustainable solutions for our world.”
The Green School Way centers on education that’s not just impactful but also purpose-driven. The school firmly believes that education should make a difference, both in the lives of students and in the world around them. Caroline Rennie explains, “The impact of learning experiences should be immediate, an integral part of the learning journey, but also enduring, influencing a student’s life well beyond their time at school, ultimately contributing to a more positive, sustainable future.”
Recognizing that impact is subjective and deeply personal, Green School tailors learning experiences to be as personalized and student-centered as possible. Here, students engage through their passions and interests, ensuring that learning is effective and deeply meaningful.
One remarkable aspect of Green School’s approach is how its primary learners actively collaborate with the broader community, particularly in conservation. This collaboration has inspired numerous year-6/grade-5 capstone projects dedicated to protecting local flora and fauna. Students enthusiastically participate in predator trapping, kiwi conservation efforts, wetland regeneration, and the creation of educational spaces and walkways for others to explore. Caroline Rennie states, “These children learn firsthand about the importance of biodiversity and food security. They plant, grow, and sometimes face the challenges of cultivation all across our campus. They share this knowledge with their families, sparking a ripple effect that leads parents to attend workshops on permaculture alongside their children. This is a tangible change in action.”
Preparing Graduates for a Sustainable Future
Green School’s vision extends beyond the school gates. Graduates are not just educated; they are empowered to actively participate in green economies, advocate for sustainable development, and drive positive change toward a more environmentally conscious and socially responsible world. Caroline Rennie envisions schools as centers of innovation, where environmental and community issues find solutions and where an ever-expanding community learns, shares, and celebrates together.
High school learners at Green School have embarked on various sustainable business ventures, from eco-friendly lip balms to herbal teas, beeswax wraps, essential oils, homegrown honey, community food bags, handmade natural soaps, and even clothes swaps. These ventures instill in students the understanding that for their generation to be true environmental changemakers, sustainability must be accessible to all. They grapple with challenges, from higher production costs to the importance of local sourcing, and they learn the value of grit and determination in product design and prototype development. The ultimate success lies in creating viable businesses that consider people, the planet, and profit, akin to the B-corporations that serve as their models.
An Ever-Evolving Curriculum
Green School’s approach to education is refreshingly dynamic, designed to continuously evolve and adapt to stay relevant in our ever-changing world. Caroline Rennie explains, “Our cornerstone is the Green Literacies Framework, the foundation of every Green School education. This framework nurtures the fluency required for success in a world transitioning toward sustainability.”
This interdisciplinary framework is deeply rooted in real-world sustainability challenges, offering forward-looking and ambitious academic pathways. When complemented by the Green Skills and I-RESPECT values, the Green School curriculum shapes individuals who are exceptionally prepared to navigate life beyond the school’s confines.
“We take joy in engaging students through high-quality, solution-based learning experiences,” Caroline Rennie shares. Green School students are encouraged to confront real-world problems in their immediate communities, allowing them to witness the positive impact they can have, regardless of age or experience level. This empowerment instills confidence, motivating them to continue taking positive action in their futures.
For instance, when New Zealand faced recent flooding and cyclones that disrupted the food supply chain, Green School students assembled and shared food packages from the school gardens, toys, and other donations with affected communities. This experience not only taught them about kindness and sharing but also illustrated the far-reaching effects of climate change on critical supply chains, emphasizing the importance of transitioning to local food sources.
Local to Global Engagement
Green School welcomes learners from around the world and encourages them to immerse themselves in their local environments. This approach enables students to interact with local communities, gain insights into local culture and traditions, and collaborate on solving environmental and social challenges that impact those communities directly. This firsthand experience of making a difference empowers students to extend their impact globally. Caroline Rennie dubs this approach as “local to global,” where students realize the potential of being global citizens through localized engagement.
At Green School, students of all ages are not passive recipients of knowledge but active co-creators of their learning journey. They work alongside teachers, sharing their passions, exploring their curiosity, and rolling up their sleeves to devise creative solutions to real-world problems. This process instills in them a great understanding that their ideas and unique perspectives hold value, nurturing a lifelong love for learning.
“As we prepare for our first graduating cohort this year,” Caroline Rennie proudly shares, “each student will present their Greenstone project.” Greenstone, a Grade 12/Year 13 capstone project, involves students presenting their world-shaping ideas in a TED-style talk. Through these projects, students embark on a transformative journey, discovering self-worth, validation as critical thinkers, confidence as communicators, and lasting connections to their passions, causes, partners, and potential career pathways.
The Way Forward
Caroline Rennie’s vision for Green School New Zealand extends beyond its own campus. She states, “As part of the global network of Green Schools, we are eager to bring the Green School model to learners worldwide.” Green School New Zealand is dedicated to supporting the establishment of new Green School campuses across the globe, all built upon the foundation of the Green Literacies Framework and the local-to-global approach to community engagement.
These future Green Schools will be uniquely tailored to their specific geographies, native cultures, and histories while upholding the core values and principles that define the Green School experience. It’s about fostering a global network of schools united by a shared commitment to sustainability and holistic education.
Excitingly, the next chapter in the Green School journey is set to unfold in Tulum, with the anticipated opening of a new Green School campus in 2026. This expansion marks a significant step toward realizing the vision of empowering learners everywhere to become stewards of a more sustainable and interconnected world.
For More Info: https://www.greenschool.nz/