Isolated rural school will use its $25,000 grant to buy tech teaching tools.

It is small - its roll is just 17 - and is part of an isolated community on the windswept Manawatu coastline. But Tangimoana School has won bragging rights over almost 700 other New Zealand schools.

It has been awarded a $25,000 tech grant - an amount equivalent to $1,470 per student - after being named winner of the Genesis Energising Young Minds competition.

Tangimoana headed off the 685 other primary, intermediate and secondary schools in the competition, part of the Genesis School-gen programme which aims to bring solar energy and efficiency to life for students.

"We're over the moon here," says Timu Niwa, the school's principal and sole fulltime teacher. "When Genesis turned up the other day with a huge cheque to tell us we had won, the kids went nuts."

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One of five finalists – it made it to that list thanks to the huge number of votes it received from the local community – the school had to impress a panel of judges about how they would spend the funding and the challenges they face in teaching the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Aka Aka School near Pukekohe won the second prize of $15,000 and Waikino School near Waihi won third prize of $10,000. All three schools will use the money for edu-tech gear such as solar panels, 3D printers, virtual reality goggles and robotics kits.

Niwa, who has been at Tangimoana since the beginning of 2017, says the win will provide a huge morale boost not just to the school but also to Tangimoana village which is located on the west coast 38km from Palmerston North.

"So many unfortunate things have happened to the school and the community," he says. "We've had various floods over the last 10 to 15 years; after a huge one in 2004 the school had to close and a lot of families moved out of town (all 186 households in the village were evacuated while during a second flood in 2015 the village was cut off from the outside world when all roads were washed out).

"At one point the school roll was down to single digits, it was touch and go whether it would remain open. But recent plans by the local council to address the flooding problem have seen families slowly returning.

Niwa says the funding will be of "immense benefit" to the school's ability to teach the STEM subjects.

"We are a decile two school and most of our students come from low socio-economic backgrounds," he says. "While I understand STEM can be taught without fancy tech equipment, readily accessing and fundraising for new technologies is beyond the remit of the school and its community.

"Our senior children travel to Palmerston North each week to attend technology classes, but this all comes at a cost to the school, so this funding will help reduce this and the challenges we face in being somewhat isolated."

Niwa says both the students and the school board have contributed ideas on how the money will be spent. They include:
• Installation of a solar power system
• Robotics kits to enable students to compete in robotic competitions
• Sphero robots to help students learn the basics of coding
• A set of new iPads
• Science resources to assist in teaching sustainability, energy, recycling, gardening, composting and information about the importance of healthy eating and having a healthy body and brain
• 3D printer for use in a range of science and technology learning

Niwa says the local community really got behind the school: "They put signs up on the highway asking people to vote for us, there were posters in the local shop window calling for votes, they truly backed us all the way."

Genesis community investment manager Jenny Burke who broke the good news to the school, says its submission to the judging panel showed a real desire to ensure the relative isolation and size of school didn't prevent learning opportunities for the students.

She says the school embraces the personal interests of its students "to encourage inquisitive learning and all the judges felt there was a huge opportunity to make a very big difference in their lives."

Aka Aka School principal Michaelene Nu'u says the funding will allow the school to take STEM learning to the next level, while Waikino School principal Joanna Wheway says it is an opportunity to get funding tagged purely to learning.

The competition, which ran from February to April, attracted a total of 250,997 votes from local communities.

Genesis CEO Marc England says as a country progress will be influenced by enabling children to learn STEM skills from an early age and getting them excited about these topics.

"School-gen supports the STEM-based learning that will be central to how industries adapt and flourish," he says. "These three schools are fostering this critical and creative thinking early and these grants are aimed at assisting that."