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Careers in Conservation Course

Our first 'Careers in Conservation' course with Whanganui secondary school students has been an incredible experience of learning for all involved! The students have found value in the holistic, immersive learning experiences we provide on Pīwakawaka Farm. And our Coordinators are discovering that some of the most important lessons are found beyond the scope of the curriculum.

The ‘Careers in Conservation’ course is an NZQA-accredited course, run by the Learning Environment in partnership with the student's respective schools and Ag Challenge, a Whanganui-based training provider. It teaches Year 11-13 students about conservation, health and safety, sustainable land management, water use and quality, and nutrition.

This course is designed for youth who feel disconnected from mainstream education and are interested in pursuing a career in conservation/kaitiakitanga, agriculture, horticulture, or similar fields. It aims to provide positive experiences of learning to support students to stay engaged with conventional education.

“When I tell people about what I do in this course I get overwhelmed with pride and enthusiasm about having conservation as a career choice,” one student said. “It makes me happy to get up at 6am on a Thursday morning.”

Students from four secondary schools in the Whanganui district took part in the first course, which started in May and took place twice a week.

The farm, waterways, and the surrounding forest became a ‘living learning environment’ for the students. We started by simply observing the natural world, looking at the forest and seeking to understand how it works and what it needs to thrive. How do the trees support each other? What benefits does the stream bring to the forest system? How do the birds contribute to the spreading of seeds? And what is going on beneath our feet?

Through observation and immersion in the natural world, students learned what makes a forest thrive. They also came to understand that they, too, are part of a living network in which their actions have an impact on other people and living beings.

By rediscovering this connection with nature and one another, the students’ learning became alive. With this deeper understanding, the students became engaged in the core conservation skills and knowledge for supporting the forest’s health, including seed collection, planting and propagation.

“My wellbeing has improved through change in routine and experiencing the ngahere close up as to learning about it in the classroom,” one student said.
Another student said: “I've learned to engage with my surroundings and be open to more physical things.”

We took a similar approach in the health and safety and nutrition lessons. In addition to learning the core curriculum, the students were asked to "check-in" on their wellbeing each week. Simple questions about what they had for breakfast or how much water they’re drinking led to discussions about how to take better care of their physical and mental wellbeing. Additionally, providing a safe environment to talk about their thoughts and feelings led to open, honest conversations and a deeper sense of trust and collaboration within the group.

“I feel much better about myself” and “I'm slowly starting to feel more confident in myself with giving things a go”.

One of our objectives at the Learning Environment is to enable the delivery of wellbeing-centered, holistic learning experiences. We are so inspired and encouraged by how the students on the ‘Careers in Conservation’ course have responded to our teaching methods. It’s been a time of practical learning and personal growth that will help prepare the students for a career and a more resilient future.

If you would like to know more about the ‘Careers in Conservation’ course in Whanganui, please don’t hesitate to contact us at

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