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Mountain View School – Cultural Landscapes

Principal Sue McLachlan.

Mountain View School is located on the side of Mangere Mountain, a volcano in Mangere, South Auckland, and caters for year 1–6 students who are predominantly of Māori and Pasifika descent. Students and teachers strive to achieve excellence in everything they do and make a safe and exciting kura by creating beautiful Learning Landscapes with an emphasis on Cultural Landscape.

In 2016, Principal Sue McLachlan (right) completed a sabbatical looking at Learning Landscapes. In this post she explains how and why they have made this a focus at Mountain View School.

"Mountain View School’s vision for our school environment is based on the premise that if we want our children to be well educated future citizens who actively care for the environment and people’s property, the school needs to develop an environment that the children and community are proud of, involved in, care about, and want to look after. We want the goal of creating and belonging to a beautiful, exciting place to be attainable for our poverty-impacted Mangere children.

We want our children to:

  • take responsibility for making and maintaining a better world despite the challenges
  • dare to be different – to be creative, innovative, outstanding, and inspirational
  • aspire to excellence in every aspect of their learning and living
  • be proud to belong and contribute their best to our school, our community, our place, our nation, our world.

The development of a functional, beautiful, and exciting learning environment at Mountain View School is ongoing. All aspects of the school, curriculum, learning/teaching programmes, resources, equipment, buildings, grounds and gardens are carefully designed to promote and facilitate learning as well as to complement the wider community and general educational environment."

Sue McLachlan, sabbatical report, p.5

Mountain View School – Learning Landscapes slideshow

Learning Landscapes

Every Learning Landscape at Mountain View School is developed with various learning objectives. They are not just decorative landscapes, they are Learning Landscapes in that each of the developments is a teaching resource with multiple learning outcomes at individual, class, school, or community levels.

The school's strategic and annual planning has driven the learning direction throughout this process. Although functionality and accelerating learning have been the underlying premise of school developments, incorporating beauty into the equation where possible was considered to be of intrinsic value, after all, beauty is what moves the human spirit and adds to a sense of peace and happiness. Coming out of the daily grind and often ugliness of poverty-impacted situations into peace and beauty can help redress the balance for children.

The children were inherently involved in transforming the total school environment. The following whakataukī from the Principal's Masters thesis, The Power of Visual Language (Sue McLachlan, 1996), was used as the underlying catalyst for change of the total school environment:

Mountain View School whakataukī.

Ngā karu a ngā tamariki hei matakite maungārongo mō te ao meāke nei

The eyes of the children are the visions of the future

The message to Mountain View School children was that it was their job to make the world a better, and more beautiful place. Judging by the comments from visitors to the school about the wairua, mana, peaceful feeling, and happiness pervading the school environment, Mountain View School children have taken this challenge to heart and their ownership and accountability has created an exciting, challenging, and beautiful learning environment. The children know achievements are the result of hard work with everyone contributing. They also have established goals of leadership, achieving excellence, and high expectations of success.

The impetus for change for Mountain View School had a moral purpose of addressing issues of poverty and improving the children’s chances of escaping the poverty cycle through quality education that optimised learning and raised their achievement levels. For Mountain View School one of the major aspects of capacity building for this transformation was the recognition of the impact of design on optimising learning and the importance of the development of the total/whole school site as a learning landscape and a means to address issues of poverty.

Cultural landscape

Schools need to be cognisant of their communities and the importance of cultural landscape when considering change. Auckland, as a city, has a global uniqueness in being a "city of 100 volcanoes". People around the world are amazed that Mountain View School is sited on the slopes of a volcano. For Māori, and many other Aucklanders, from the top of the maunga/mountain to the sea are special landmarks that are all part of their identification beacons. Our volcanoes are symbols of our land – mountain and sea, sea and mountain. The views to the volcanoes of Auckland are intrinsically precious to Aucklanders. The volcanoes are the landmarks that we identify with. They are our spiritual compass. Losing or diminishing these views would negatively impact on the historical, social, and emotional aspects of our lives.

This is true for the community surrounding Mangere Mountain and the children and community of Mountain View School. Mountains are geographic points of reference and part of the human geography or the patterns on the land that shape people as humans and form a geographic cultural compass. Carl O. Sauer, a human geographer, developed the concept of “cultural landscape” to show that the physical environment retains a central significance, as the medium with and through which human cultures act. His classic definition of a "cultural landscape" reads as follows:

“The cultural landscape is fashioned from a natural landscape by a cultural group. Culture is the agent, the natural area is the medium, the cultural landscape is the result."

Carl O. Sauer

Integral to all of the transformation of learning spaces in Mountain View School is the adjacent Mangere Mountain, which has significant historical, cultural and spiritual importance for the school community. The school children changed the name of the school in the 1980s because they thought the most significant factor about the school was its place on the slopes of Mangere Mountain. The original name given to the school by the Department of Education when they built the school in 1963 was “Miller Road School”.

Referencing Mountain View School to its cultural landscape links the children, community, and school to their cultural anchors – the wayfinders like the mountain, the sea, the marae, and then to our school with cultural signifiers like "Taniwha of Learning" upon entering the school gate, Te Pou Matauranga, Te Papa Tuhono, and Silasila. Mangere Mountain is part of the Mountain View School cultural landscape for the school children and community and is a referent in their daily lives physically and spiritually. It is part of their inspirational sustenance.

Incorporating whakataukī like – “Whāia te iti kahurangi, me tūohu koe he maunga teitei” Seek that which is most precious. If you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain – into Mountain View School’s vision and values, helps to reconnect and reference the school to the mountain so the children can draw on this source to aspire to educational excellence.

The maunga (Mangere Mountain) is a significant feature embedded into the wairua and everyday activities of Mountain View School. The children of Mountain View School see themselves as guardians of the mountain and the maunga is an integral part of their school and family lives. The children undertake studies about the mountain. They do archaeological tours with the Department of Conservation, Auckland Council, and University archaeologists. They have made several murals of the different faces of the mountain, the different scenes around the mountain, and the different views of the mountain from different parts of Auckland.

Nowadays Mangere Mountain is so important to Mountain View School that new buildings and developments have been specifically designed to emphasise and align with the volcano that looms above the school site. The volcanic rock shelves and boulders from the original eruption create (often expensive) problems every time developments or improvements are undertaken to transform the Mountain View School site.

Cultural landscape is a concept that can be emphasised in school property developments to integrate the community back into the school and provide inspirational aesthetic components of lifelong learning. The Mangere Mountain volcanic rock is a visual reminder of the power, strength, and resilience of the volcano and of our maunga. Consequently the Mangere Mountain volcanic rock from the school site was constantly used to landscape and enhance the landscape and buildings and reference it to the mountain. Firstly, for the terraced seating and stage of the amphitheatre, then volcanic rock walls were used as cladding on Te Pou Matauranga the new library, ICT building entrance and auditorium, and also to contain, frame and enhance the golden totara tree Prince Charles planted for the children. Finally, the Mangere Mountain volcanic rock was used to link the Te Papa Tuhono Events Centre and the new Silasila boulder building complex with the rest of the school by creating volcanic rock walls, terraces, boxed gardens, and a large volcanic rock water feature in the entrance atrium. In addition, significant volcanic rock forms were also kept and used to create a stone circle for seasonal measurement of time and ancestral links.

For more information on "Learning Landscapes" and for examples of how you can create these in your own school, read Sue’s sabbatical report – Learning Landscapes: Impact of design on optimising learning and addressing issues of poverty.

Published on: 05 Mar 2018