FORMER Trident High School teacher Helen Dobbin is transferring her teaching skills to a new environment with her appointment as environmental educator for the Manawahe Eco Trust.
“I’m really excited,” says the long-time outdoor and physical education teacher. She says she was looking to take a break from the school role she’s held for the past 15 years.
“I love teaching in the outdoors and I’m passionate about the environment and sustainability, so I thought it would be a perfect match. When I heard the role was coming up, I jumped at it.”
Helen takes over the position from Liddy Bakker who has been in the role for several years.
“There’s a great environmental teaching programme already in place so I’ll be working from that but there are also opportunities to create and develop new concepts,” she says.
It appears Helen is not short on ideas. Sustainability at the Manawahe Ecological Community Centre itself is already on her horizon. With the former principal’s house next to the centre (the former Manawahe School building) previously dormant but currently being brought into use, Helen has her eye on unused and overgrown land at its rear.
“It’s not being used for anything and a vegetable garden would be great. Each visiting school class could plant something and also harvest something that contributes to their meals while they are here. It would be a win-win situation.”
Currently though, Helen says she is still finding her way on the job. “I’ve got a lot to learn.
I’ve also been given my own trapline, so I need to learn where that is for a start.”
She’s hoping the strong network she has built with schools in the region throughout her teaching career will help her to develop broader learning opportunities that the centre can offer students.
“It’s about being able to respond to the specific needs of a school and being able to tailor opportunities or individual modules to meet those needs.
“A lot of schools come up here,” she says. “Some of them have built a long-standing relationship, such as Trident and Tarawera, who’ve been coming for years.”
“I’m aiming to raise awareness of the Manawahe Eco Trust throughout the community and within all schools and fine-tune individualised programmes so that each group’s needs are met.
An open day at the centre is being planned for the near future, though a date is yet to be confirmed.
Helen plans to continue coaching adventure racing and multisport teams for Trident High School. She has also taken on a position with KG Kayaks, another role she says she is loving.
Protecting the ecological corridor
MANAWAHE Eco Trust was formed in 2005 as a means of managing community interest in the care of the area known as the Manawahe Ecological Corridor – the only ecological forested area to lie between the Rotorua Lakes and the sea.
The area represents just 1 percent of the ecosystem type that was found on the Rangitaiki Plains before it was drained for farming.
The area is home to populations of various threatened species, including kakapo. It is home to lively populations of tui, bellbirds, tomtits, grey warblers, cuckoos, fantail and kereru and there have been sightings of whitehead and robin.
It is also home of some species of invertebrates such as the giant centipede, the forest gecko and the Pacific gecko, all of which were found in a 2007 study, but are yet to be studied.
Governed by five trustees, and with a solid base of volunteers, the trust monitors the area that is bound in the north by Matata township and the coast, to the south by Lake Rotoma and large Department of Conservation reserves, by forested areas in the west and by a large escarpment in the east, which drops onto the Rangitaiki Plains.
The trust carries out numerous roles, including pest control, guided walks, and the fostering of ecotourism ventures by landowners as a means of sustainable land use. It runs an annual rabbit hunt.
It also stages an annual multisport race for schools and is in the process of developing a new adventure-multisport event.
The trust has a strong focus on education, employing an environmental educator, who is responsible for running programmes for school and community groups who visit the centre.
Groups are often housed overnight in the principal’s house on the site of the old Manawahe School, which closed more than 10 years ago.