Prior to 1980 an Anthroposophical study group had been established in Motueka by Beth and Lynn Heath. In 1980 the group turned its attention to the topic of education and the group grew in numbers. Many of the new members were couples with young children and they were drawn to Steiner’s educational principles. In 1981, one of the study group, Yvonne Vincent, moved to Hawkes Bay with her family, so she could study Steiner teaching at Taruna College with tutor Carl Hoffmann. Early in 1982 the Motueka group was visited by Dr Bill Scherer, a visiting professor from Hawaii and Chairman of the Anthroposophical Society there. His wife, Joanna, was a Waldorf teacher and she gave a talk on education which was held at the Riverside Community Hall. Meanwhile in Motueka a group formed to start a kindergarten and held their first meeting in November 1982. On the 10th April 1984 the Motueka Rudolf Steiner School Trust was founded as the governing body to represent the wishes of the school community. Yvonne returned that same year and started a doll making group at her house and this soon evolved into kindergarten sessions. Riverside Community support greatly assisted the establishment of the kindergarten group.
The kindergarten group soon needed a larger dedicated space. The solution was to lease the delightful old Pioneer Hall in Riwaka. The founding parents had a big job renovating the hall to make a beautiful Steiner kindergarten. The building has a beautiful wooden interior and this needed to be restored. The grounds needed to be landscaped and planted. The Pioneer Hall Steiner Kindergarten opened in February 1985 with 12 children. Yvonne continued as teacher and was assisted by Barbara Jackson, an experienced Steiner kindergarten teacher from Hawkes Bay. The roll grew quickly and Jean Howarth joined as our second teacher. Another helper was Kim Pullan who was 17 years old when she started. By 1989 the kindergarten was so popular it was running morning and an afternoon groups, and the search started for a bigger building closer to Motueka. Pioneer Hall is still serving Steiner Education 30 years later, now as a playgroup venue.
Wallace Street Kindergarten
A building was found in Wallace Street, Motueka, which was central and had a large established garden. The owner was very accommodating and allowed us to rent, renovate, shift-in and buy later.
Again the community spent endless hours of volunteer work on this new project. The two kindergarten groups shifted from Pioneer Hall to the new building in 1991. Parents and supporters then began fundraising to purchase the building. After several years we owned the building and our kindergarten had a permanent home, where it is today.
Concurrent with this development, a Steiner Education initiative began in Nelson City. The Nelson Steiner Education Trust (NEST) was registered, a craft group formed, and a playgroup opened.
We need a school
A group of parents came together in the year 2000 to start a Steiner school. This desire took form when we were visited by Avril Nicoll, a teacher from Raphael House Steiner School in Wellington. Avril commented that she was a pioneer at heart and enjoyed the pioneering spirit she found in the Motueka Steiner community. The angels were looking after us that day because Avril agreed to return and become the founding teacher of our new school. We now had a commitment from an experienced teacher but we had neither building nor money. The community galvanised and soon the opportunity arose to buy a building very close to the kindergarten. An appeal went out to parents and supporter and the money was raised with donations and loans. The property was purchased and the community gathered to renovate and remodel. Soon the former house was a mini school. The school opened in 2002 with one teacher and 5 children (year 1 and 2 combined). A second teacher started in 2003 who took in older children.
A bigger school
After 2 ½ years the little school had two teachers and was full. We were surprised and delighted by our success but we now had a space problem. The situation was similar to the kindergarten in 1989, so we made the same decision to move and grow. Again the angels came to our assistance and we discovered the old hospital building on High Street was available for rent. It was a beautiful old building with a significant history for the town. Unfortunately it had been empty for several years and was in poor condition.
We secured a nine year lease and set to work cleaning, renovating, painting and building more desks. The school relocated and reopened in February 2006 with three class-teachers and a little over 20 students. The school roll grew and we increased staff as we could afford.
A second kindergarten
This time we did have some capital from the sale of the original school, plus we received loans from our support community. It took us almost a year of renovating involving community working bees plus a hired builder. The second kindergarten building opened in May 2009.
In 2008-09 the effects of the global financial crisis arrived in our area. Family incomes were affected and employment declined. Some families left the area in search of jobs. Motueka had experienced many years of population growth but this stopped. The school roll plateaued at between 55-60 and demand for the extra kindergarten places was less than expected. Fortunately the development we had undertaken over the past 20 years was largely build on donations, interest free loans and community labour, and our debts are manageable. Money remains very tight but we have been able to maintain our service and keep doing what we believe in.
Thirty two years after our first kindergarten started in a teacher’s living room we now have two playgroups, two kindergarten groups and a primary school. Steiner education in Motueka is held by a strong, supportive and enthusiastic community of about 40 families. Some of those pioneering parents who were involved in the first kindergarten are still active members of our community. Some of the children from that first kindergarten group now have their children at the kindergarten and school. Two former pupils are now in Steiner teacher training.