Rototuna Junior High a school of the future

By Ged Cann

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Rototuna Junior High School principal Fraser Hill on the first floor of Rototuna High School.
Rototuna Junior High School principal Fraser Hill on the first floor of Rototuna High School.

The first thing you notice when you enter Rototuna Junior High School is that it feels more like a college than a school.

Everything is open plan, there is no shortage of sunlight from large windows and the students have ample space to move around.

Despite having only opened its doors in February, the words 'future-proofed' come to mind, and justifiably so as principal Fraser Hill explains.

"One of the features of Ministry of Education new builds is they are all five 'Green Star' rating. We are the first school in New Zealand to have full LED lighting throughout the building. They are controlled by a computer which automatically dims the lights if sunlight lights the space up enough."

There are solar panels on the roof, no topsoil is removed from the site, and grey water tanks distribute water run-off from the roofs.

There are also limited parking spaces to encourage bike riding to school and Mr Hill said currently 60 per cent of the students cycle to and from school.

Many people would worry about children becoming distracted or wandering off without walled-in classrooms, but Mr Hill said it was a case of engagement, not control.

"Most of what you see is kids engaged and on-task, and I think the key part of our afternoon programme is that students had something like 39 different modules to pick from. Students opt-in to modules and automatically we get that very strong buy in and motivated learners.

"One of the key philosophies of the building is self management and self direction, which is reflected in a more university-type design," Mr Hill said.

The junior high is spread over two floors, with the only separate rooms being specific quiet or drama rooms.

The floors are similar layouts with large open spaces connected with specialist learning areas, including science, art, drama, technology and computing.

There are currently 642 students in the school, with more than 800 expected to be on the roll next year.

One of the possible issues facing the school was its involvement in the 'bring your own device' scheme, with some parents potentially finding it financially difficult to provide their children with a laptop or tablet.

But Mr Hill said this had not caused any issues, with entry-level devices coming in at about $330.

"We have done our best to make sure we provided a range of different pricing options and we're flexible with the types of device students can bring. We prefer a laptop but because our learning management system is all in the Cloud it doesn't matter too much which device students bring."

The school also has some devices they can lend out if need be.

A full industrial kitchen provides for food technology and, in time, Mr Hill said he hoped the school cafeteria, which is adjacent to the kitchen, would be able to be linked so children can help prepare school meals.

A technology area is complete with 3D printer and laser cutter.

During the guided tour we see pupils designing computer games, creating their own volcanoes and performing drama pieces alongside those learning traditional maths and English.

The school's theatre is still under construction, expected for completion by the end of April.

The senior high school will be finished by the end of the year.

Mr Hill said starting a new school was exceptionally busy.

"The beauty is you're starting with a clean slate and you're thinking about the possibilities you have," he said.

- Hamilton News

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