Whangamata could be in the midst of a seismic human shift, if enrolments for Whangamata Area School are anything to go by.

The school has grown by almost a third in fewer than two years from 350 to almost 480 students at most recent count.

School principal Alistair Luke says the changing face of the town is bringing opportunities for expansion — both in building and staffing as well as fresh approaches.

"In a year and a half we've grown substantially, and we love the fact there are a lot of young families moving to Whangamata and choosing to educate their children at Whangamata Area School," he says.


Roll growth is bringing new projects like astroturfing of the courts, a complete reroofing and lighting refit of the gymnasium, and staffing levels supporting dramatic changes to the range and options for subjects.

With almost two years at the helm, Alistair says students are navigating the best courses of study at a much younger age. In the world of NCEA as opposed to School Certificate and Bursary, they can now take double the number of subjects over the year and no longer have to study English, for example, every semester.

"The curriculum that was prescribed to us when we were young is no longer as it was. Students can succeed in many ways. It's an exciting world full of possibilities that they're walking into, and ideas are currency.

"But you have to have the idea that you are comfortable with change."

He says the school is preparing students for the reality that an average worker will change their whole career direction up to seven times.

"We talk now in education about the importance of soft skills and mindsets around being confronted by rapid change, because that's the world we're sending children out to."

Ashleigh Crofskey-Howse is in Year 12 and already working on her goal of studying tourism in Hamilton when she leaves. She isn't missing out on her chosen subjects despite the small school size compared to city schools — one subject is done completely online.

"We don't rely on the school to provide every teacher for a subject. Most of us are quite independent. I think it's a good thing."


New to the curriculum at Whangamata is business studies and an automotive course, although Alistair points out that "digital literacy" is a key component of any study.
"Jobs that were previously practical are becoming digitised and manual jobs are being done by robots.

"You want adaptive people who can accept and be comfortable with change."

With the help of the school's careers adviser, head girl Gabriella Pitcher thinks the school and small town life has prepared her well.

"Living in Whangamata, most of us have jobs and it's harder for city kids to get work experience."

The New Zealand Census takes place on Tuesday, March 6 and Statistics NZ will officially count how many people and dwellings there are in New Zealand.

This will update figures used by organisations like Thames Coromandel District Council, informing organisations about who lives in town, how old they are, what they earn and how they're employed.

There's plenty of evidence of new families moving into Whangamata, Tairua and Whitianga, with many parents tag-teaming as one straddles a few days in the office in Auckland with working from home in paradise.

Mercury Bay Area School principal John Wright says Whitianga and surrounds are equally catering to an increasing number of families.

"We tend to have a roll growth of 35-40 new students each year, and this has been a regular and ongoing pattern for five or more years. Last year we opened with 935 or so and this year we will open with 975. All along the eastern seaboard, more and more families are coming to the wider Coromandel, and I do not expect this pattern to change in the foreseeable future," he says.

Tairua School principal Brendan Finn says they too have experienced a similar growth pattern over recent years and are predicting a closing roll of 185 students for 2018. "With our brand new three classroom facility, we now have the capacity to accommodate approximately 230 students.

"Like John said, I can't see this growth slowing down. The Coromandel provides a safe and nurturing environment with great schools located throughout the Peninsula."