Chris Leckie remembers the very first student that walked through the doors at Rotorua English Language Academy 25 years ago.

"Her name was Yuki and she was from Japan," she says.

When Chris opened the school in 1993 with business partners Elaine and Roger Brewster, Yuki was the only student and Chris and Elaine were the only teachers.

Since then, more than 15,000 students had taken English lessons, there were now about eight permanent staff plus a team of relief teachers and thousands of friendships and connections had been made.

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This week the school was celebrating "thriving and surviving" for 25 years.

Chris said the 25-year celebration marked the ups and downs the school had experienced.

"I love meeting our students and watching their confidence grow," she said.

But the success of the school had not always been smooth sailing with difficulties including the terrorist attacks of September 11 and diseases such as Bird Flu that had prevented students from travelling to New Zealand.

"It has been very hard at times but we have survived," Chris said.

Past and present students celebrate the school's success. Photo/ Stephen Parker
Past and present students celebrate the school's success. Photo/ Stephen Parker

She had always believed the school would survive because of its uniqueness and the "strong family feeling" about the academy.

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Chris said the school catered for students aged from 13 to 70 and had experienced strong growth in both long and short-term student numbers.

She said the school did not just offer English lessons but also helped showcase the beauty of Rotorua by working with local activity providers and organising local homestays.

"We have been successful largely because of the support of the Rotorua community."

She said there had always been interest from locals wanting to host students.

"The community are naturally hospitable and welcoming. Students often say how safe and welcome they feel," Chris said.