AGE School started out in Takapuna in 2018 as an academy for gifted education. Founders Katherine (Kat) Allsopp-Smith and Evan Christian started to think carefully about education after having their first child, son Branson. Talented and with a spark, when Branson got to the age of three they realised there was no way he was going to fit into the square box of education. So their journey began.
Fast forward to 2021 and Kat and Evan have proudly opened version two of the AGE School. I have watched the new AGE School building being developed over the past 12 months. Living only a stone’s throw away from the place I walk past regularly. Watching a dated office building and rear apartment complex being linked and transformed into a school has been interesting. I was eager to take a look inside.
I visited on a busy Friday in mid-February, just a few weeks after the doors had opened for term one, to have a chat with enthusiastic principal Steve Mouldey. AGE School is a totally new concept for New Zealander’s to get their heads around, but the visit blew me away. It has been many years in the making for Kat and Evan. They first heard about similar schools when living overseas, visiting schools like Blue School and WeGrow in New York, Assets School in Hawaii, MUSE School in California and Green School in Bali.
The entry to AGE School is off Sanders Avenue, through a modern reception area and then moving into a whole new world of education as you go further. This is a school that caters from age five through to 16 (year 12), with a plan to extend to year 13 in the near future. The new school can cater for 120 students, although there are currently around 50 students with the goal to increase this carefully to 100 and then assess whether the maximum can be accommodated without compromising the very important learning ratio.
Principal Steve Mouldey has led AGE School for two years. Steve is a Shore lad born and bred, was previously deputy principal at Lynfield College, and was also involved in the start-up phase at Hobsonville Point School. Steve leads a team of 10 teachers, three learning support staff and other specialist teachers who come in as needed. He clearly shares Kat and Evan’s passion for the AGE School way of learning.
“We are fortunate to have people such as Kat and Evan who saw an opportunity with their own kids and were in a position to do something about it,” said Steve Mouldey, when explaining what AGE School is all about. “They are inspired by international education and motivated by their children”
“The AGE School vision is to help students become curious, creative and compassionate learners. We make their education meaningful and highly relevant to a world that’s changing.”
Despite hobbling around on crutches Steve was keen to show me the whole set-up so took me on a guided tour of the AGE School’s three levels. His own office is located close to one of the many learning areas throughout the complex. While we went through I observed younger students working with older students. The design of the new school is colourful and lively. Clearly no expense has been spared in creating the vibrant learning environment. As we walked towards the front of the first level – past the couches and shared learning tables – I discovered what looked like a commercial kitchen complete with the aroma of food being cooked. This area doubles as a learning space as well as a kitchen, and soup was on the menu that day.
Walking past Steve’s office we discovered a court space, where a group of students were playing basketball with teacher Jono. A wonderful outdoor space on two levels has been created with the link between the two existing buildings that were on the site. I glanced to my left and there were kids sliding down the artificial grass slide that has been formed as an extension of the huge outdoor deck that wraps around the front and eastern side of the building. I was invited to have a slide but having had an operation only three months ago I declined.
Moving through the first floor outdoor space to the seaward wing of the school there are more learning areas, including a specialist breakout wall and green screen for video. This is also where teacher Jono, an Apple specialist, teaches the students the art of video editing on devices like ipads etc. There are sound proofed music and editing rooms, with students Eli and Sam playing the drums as Steve and I walked past. A large outdoor learning space and deck is a feature on the seaward boundary, which is also is the exit point of an enclosed slide that appeared to come from the top of the building.
“I’ll show you where it comes from on the next level,” said Steve Mouldey as I quizzed him about the slide. “The unique thing about this place is the kids have had a big input into the design and the slide was something they insisted on.”
On the top floor was more learning spaces as well as another kitchen. This part of the complex was previously an apartment so while it has been totally refitted, certain aspects have been retained and the kitchen is one. Both staff and students can use it. It is also used for science experiments. There is a deck with sea views and the impressive enclosed slide departs from the internal top level learning space.
Stepping back into the top level outdoor area there is a grandstand where school assemblies can be held and steps up to trampoline-style netting suspended above the court space below. Kids are playing on the netting along with owner and founder Kat Allsopp-Smith. This was a great opportunity to meet Kat who is clearly fizzing about the place that has been her goal for many years.
Kat is not hands-on at the school but it is clear that now it is a reality it is hard for her to stay away. She played an instrumental part in the design with Phil Smith of Collingridge and Smith Architects.
Kat joined us on the rest of our tour, continuing through into the top level nearest the road to more learning spaces that include the library, and the ‘Discovery Hub’ that includes robotics and a 3D printer.
Kat Allsopp-Smith was keen to explain that AGE School is all about the kids. “In designing the place over 18 months we had lots of input from the kids. At one point we erased our plans and went to the kids. That’s where the ideas for the grass and enclosed slides and nets came from. Not all their ideas flew though, the fireman’s pole didn’t make it...yet!”
“We are very keen for the kids to explore the local environment and learn from those experiences,” adds Kat. “We want the school to be part of the community. A recent project involved them going to the beach and finding something natural and white, something un-natural and something magical. The kids will also be camping at Takapuna Camp Ground for Sea Week.”
An extension of AGE School is the recent purchase of an 80 acre farm on the Mahurangi River near Warkworth. Kat says AGE School students will be able to discover nature with the older students able to camp, Kayak, source their own food and to learn how to live organically.
“We have a big focus on well being. Not the fluffy stuff, the real stuff. The students’ mental health is very important and what makes them happy, preparing them with life skills that set them up for the real world. The difference here is the child can work in the level they are at. We have one student at age 13 doing NCEA in subjects she excels in. We are also happy for them to spread exams over two to three years. The kids can have a lot going on and this approach means less anxiety.”
“In the design you will see that we have a lot of different spaces. This is based around psychological design to do with environmental preferences. It caters for all kids. Some can sit at desks and some can’t. We let them choose. The change we see in kids is quick and it is a thrill to see them a year on and thriving.”
Sustainability is also a big focus of AGE School. The school is powered by solar energy and in the bottom level basement there is 8000 litres of water retention that students will be able to use for vegetable growing.
The school also owns the building two doors along at 414 Lake Road which is used for one on one literacy learning, private tuition and administration. The maximum for literacy learning is three students to one teacher.
AGE School has four learning levels. ‘Emergent’ is years one to three. ‘Proficient’ is years three to five. ‘Junior High’ is years six to eight. ‘Senior College’ is years nine to 12, with year 13 being added from 2022. Fee’s at the AGE are on the lower side of New Zealand private school fees. There is no uniform.
Well done Kat, Evan and Steve – this is a fantastic boost for local education and the Shore in general. Due to the opportunities as a result of their brand new home, there are spaces available now for students of all ages at AGE School. We get the feeling it won’t be too long until they are full again.
For more information contact Steve Mouldey at Age School, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.age.school.nz