Visit Kimi Ora Community School in the heart of Flaxmere and what you will see is something very different to just two years ago, when principal Matt O'Dowda started.

The school was on the brink of closure. The roll had fallen from 300 to just 70 pupils and a Limited Statutory Manager was in place. The children were not making healthy food choices, were showing up late to class and getting into fights at lunch and break times.

Now 140 children are enrolled and turn up to school eager to learn both in and out of the classroom, eat healthy food, tend to their school vege garden and most importantly, are active.

It is a testament to O'Dowda's vision. But ask the humble principal, and he will deflect the praise. "A lot of what we've done, you can't do it in a school without some outside funding."


Wharariki Trust has gotten behind the school, supporting the resourcing of funding and getting people within the community to behind the cause.

Trust House, Hawke's Bay Foundation, and Bostock New Zealand are some of the contributing partners.

Trust chief Executive Ana Apatu said, at the end of the day, it is about happier, healthier tamariki who want to learn. "We have seen quite a lot of difference."

O'Dowda said, "We've always said at school that we are going to be a school that makes no excuses. If the kids aren't achieving or the school is not going well, it is easy to well look at where they come from. If there is a problem, our job is to fix it not complain about it."

"A couple of years ago, about 80 per cent of kids were what you would class obese and it was just how school was at the time," he said.

"The kids used to bring a packet of chips and that would be lunch for whoever didn't have lunch that day. That is appalling for learning and it is not very good for your health either."

The transformation started when he decided to take care of feeding students both breakfast and lunch for just $1, starting the day with exercise and teaching the kids about nutrition.

"Initially when I said to staff 'let's have a crack at this', some were a bit skeptical, thinking the kids will come back tired or hyped up after fitness, but it was absolutely the opposite.

"The kids were really focused and settled after it. And they were awake. A lot of our kids go to bed when they want to go to bed or when someone turns the TV off if they sleep in the lounge.

"And so to wake them up in the morning has been fairly beneficial. They're coming in to class and they're awake. They've got oxygen in their brains and they're good to go."

On a daily basis, four senior students work with a support staff member cooking either wraps or sandwiches for lunch for the whole school.

And, on Fridays, Wayne the caretaker gets to school at 5.30am and makes a full cooked breakfast.

"We all sit down on a Friday morning with all the kids and the staff and whanau all have breakfast together"

"Last year the Hawke's Bay DHB spent $180 million on obesity-related diseases. We can't afford, as a country, to keep doing that. If our kids aren't healthy then they're going to get sick. And there's not much point being good at maths and being really good at reading if you're on dialysis when you're 20.

"The kids have learnt a lot about food and nutrition. They've done a lot of learning about their brains and their bodies. So they now know that if I drink a can of Coke this is what's going to happen when 15 teaspoons of sugar hits my brain. They can actually make informed decisions about these sorts of things."