Play-based school, with lessons in pesto making and kart-building, looks to expand

STUFFAko, a nature and play-based school in Auckland, is seeking $20,000 to expand. Stuff went along to see what the students get up to.

Parents drop their children off between 9am and 10am and a handful of students start the day with a game of ultimate hide-and-seek.

Over snacks on the mat, the class decides pesto and smoothie-making is on the agenda, along with kart-building.

Ra Lewis, 6, Ari Webber, 7, and Jacob Mack, 7, join teacher Lance Cablk for a lesson in smoothie making and learning to share.
KENDALL HUTT/STUFFRa Lewis, 6, Ari Webber, 7, and Jacob Mack, 7, join teacher Lance Cablk for a lesson in smoothie making and learning to share.

It’s been 10 months since nature-based school Ako opened its doors at Awataha Marae in Northcote.

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One of the school’s founders, mum-of-two Sabrina Nagel, said the school was proving popular.

School parents now wanted to raise funds to expand its roll from 15 to 32 students next year.

“Every child is very different and came in with a different personality and we have seen them flourish in this space,” Nagal said.

Students learnt traditional school subjects, but on their own terms, breaking the stereotype “they just play in the bush”.

Ari Webber, 7, makes a start on a wooden creation.
KENDALL HUTT/STUFFAri Webber, 7, makes a start on a wooden creation.

Mum Kate Webber, who co-founded Ako with Nagel, said she had seen her eldest son Ezra, 11, “regain the lightness” of being a child.

“It’s just about getting that magic, that play back, that kid back.”

Webber said her son had been “miserable” in a modern learning environment.

At Ako, students lead their learning, with the day's activities plotted on a whiteboard.
KENDALL HUTT/STUFFAt Ako, students lead their learning, with the day’s activities plotted on a whiteboard.

“He was in a big class, 60 kids, two teachers and he just went under the radar. He was not happy and didn’t want to go to school.”

Parents have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help the school expand next year.

The parent-run school received no government funding and was set up as a private school. 

“We didn’t want to, but we had no choice because we wanted to be accessible to everyone.

“Because we’re doing something differently, there’s pretty much no funding around at all,” Nagel said.

Nagel and Webber self-funded the start-up costs, such as the commercial lease of Awataha land, but Ako was reliant on fees and fundraising for its day-to-day running.

Every morning around 10am, students come together for a kōrero to plan the day ahead.
KENDALL HUTT/STUFFEvery morning around 10am, students come together for a kōrero to plan the day ahead.

Fees were originally paid based on a shared funding model, where parents contributed an amount based on their income.

However, Nagel said it did not work well for all families, so fees in 2019 would become $11,000 per year.  

“It’s less than most private schools, but obviously a lot more than any public school.”

If the school reached the $20,000 PledgeMe target, Ako would establish a scholarship for families who could not pay the full fees. 

Stuff