Cooking up creative ideas and leaving an ecological building legacy

| By National Team with support from Michelle White, Hukanui School


When students in a sustainable elective at Hukanui School started exploring the idea of a kitchen space near their Living Room classroom (eco-classroom) there were a number of influencing factors. Past Hukanui students (since 1998) had already contributed to a range of sustainable features within their school gates that allowed rich learning opportunities that led to environmental action in their school environment and are ongoing today.
Imagine a productive vegetable garden and orchard supported by an active beehive, composting systems and laying hens cared for by students. Think of a local ecosystem supported by students involved in active restoration and increasing biodiversity in the gully.

The backyard Garden Group harvest lemons.

What if students could harvest food needed for a recipe from school land and prepare this in a purpose-built kitchen right next to the gardens? With a plentiful supply of fruit, vegetables, eggs, and honey from their school grounds students from the year 5/6 Sustainable Elective in 2016 thought that it would be great to explore the idea of having a dedicated kitchen space.

Creating a vision

Since 2006, the school has had an Elective Programme where students choose an area of study that they would like to pursue for one day per week over 10 weeks. Education for Sustainability is one elective. In 2015, after reflecting on indoor and outdoor cooking experiences, the students in the volunteer lunchtime group, The Backyard Garden group, added the need for a safe, covered in outdoor kitchen area where they could experience ‘garden to table’ cooking to their ‘wish list’. In 2016 the Year 5/6 Sustainable Elective took this idea and generated the next stage of planning. Their learning resulted in developing scale plan designs and models that met set criteria. Learning continued with different student groups over the next 3 years, with all groups reaching an achievement action point that gave them the feeling of ownership of a stage of this project. This also provided a starting point and added to the history of this project for the following student groups to build on.

Students outline the value of having a kitchen space that could fit the whole class.

Further ideas put forward by students for the need for a kitchen space.









Exploration and Processes

In 2017 the Year 5/6 Sustainable Elective continued this journey, adding valuable research required from the architect’s visit, exploring sustainable concepts from a ‘global’ perspective, field trips and through reflections on their cooking experiences. The information was presented to the architect so he could develop concept plans.

  • Students developed the criteria for the outdoor kitchen space after a field trip to Fairfield College to see their working student kitchen, and after visiting Te Totara Primary to explore how they integrated an existing outside space to become an inside space.
  • Students meet with sustainable building expert Ian Mayes (Eco-design advisor, Hamilton City Council) to explore ideas about waste-water, running water, drainage and solar heating.
  • Students met with the architect Antanas Procuta (PAUA) to complete a plain brief.
  • Antanas then presented the concept plans to the students.
  • The students checked the plans against their criteria and carried out an evaluation of this.
  • Plans were presented to the Board of Trustees (who had already given permission for this project).
  • Students developed a risk management plan.

“For waste water from the sinks; it is dirty, so it’s not good for drinking. In the summer, we could pipe this water to our gardens to water them. In the winter when the gardens are already wet, we can make another plan. We could make a big soak tank underground that is lined with a special plastic material with holes in it. The water from the tank could run in here and slowly seep out of the holes back into the ground. If the first part of the water is really dirty, we would need another tap that sends this water into a garden bed to grow more vegetables. Then the soak hole won’t get clogged up. This is a simple and easy way to make this work.” – Student.


“For hygiene, we will have to keep the pukeko and the chickens out of this area. We have a plan to fence the chickens in the backyard garden area and the sides will be secure when we are not cooking. The pukeko are shy, so they won’t visit us when we are working in this area.” – Student

Student evaluation of draft outdoor kitchen plans.

“For hot water for cleaning up and washing equipment, we could have a solar heating system that heats the water straight away. It can be done with a box that has a glass front, placed on and angle that gets the sun. Inside the box, there are copper pipes painted black to attract the sun. The water in the pipes warms up and then the water begins to move around the pipes. We may need to use electricity in the winter to boost the heating energy because it’s not as sunny.” – Student

In 2018 the year 5/6 elective students created a well-researched persuasive video to outline their current situation and the wish to have a dedicated kitchen space. They explained the challenges with cooking in the Living Room and the advantages of a kitchen connected directly to the outside spaces from which the food was harvested. They explained that the aim of the kitchen was to encourage students and their community to explore the health benefits of garden to table food preparation. The Board of Trustees considered this favourably and agreed to continue to support the project. Students were involved in fundraising throughout this time with sales of preserved produce from their gardens.

“All of our projects are school-wide, inclusive and promote sustainable practices based on the Enviroschools principles, inquiry thinking and the New Zealand Curriculum.” – 2018 video preface


“We have been supported by our school community with a large donation of money from our PTA. This real project will leave a valuable legacy to our future students. We are proud to be contributing to this.” – Student

Tracking the building journey

The rest of this story has been captured by Hukanui Learning for Sustainability Facebook posts:
Dec 2018: Today, the Year 6 students in the Living Room Kitchen group passed the leadership baton to the Year 5 students in this group by writing messages of dedication, perseverance, passion and confidence to the Year 5 students as they continue the Living Room Kitchen project into next year. Our school Board of Trustees shared this special breakfast meeting with the students, explaining their role in the kitchen project and the very important role the students have leading and contributing to the kitchen planning and building.

2019 – The building process begins

22 May 2019: The Year 5/6 Backyard Garden Group have been busy making cucumber pickles, chutney and plum sauce using fresh food from our garden and prepared frozen food from summer-time. They are using many new skills and practicing other skills like chopping, peeling, cooking with heat and preserving. We try really hard not to waste any food. Our free Community Table also helps with this. Our preserves can be purchased from the school office. Funds go back into our sustainable projects.

Starting the build.


21 June 2019: There’s great excitement in the sustainable student groups at our school, as the student planned Living Room Kitchen is underway. Begovich Builders, a family business from our school have got our project in action. Students will begin to meet fortnightly with the builders to ask questions and explore the building time-line. Watching from the Living Room and field is a wonderful learning experience.



Students assess progress with builder, Shaun.

28 June 2019: Progress continues with our build of the Living Room Kitchen. The weather has been kind so that the foundations can be finished. Further concreting footings for the connecting pathway to the Living Room has started giving us a greater perspective of how our two buildings will work together. The students in the Living Room Kitchen group met with the builder Shaun Begovich to ask well thought out questions and have their first tour inside the building site where more questions evolved. As an observer, it is incredibly powerful to see our ‘student voice’ and ‘student led’ projects in action in another real-life learning situation.

“Great to be involved. The children asked some very good questions. Look forward to our next meeting after the holidays.” – Shaun Begovich

Students examine and discuss the plans, drawn by PAUA.

9 Aug 2019: The Living Room Kitchen is progressing well even in this winter wet weather. The builders are working on the connecting roof from the kitchen, over the walkway and to the Living Room. When the building is complete, students will have easy access between both buildings. On Tuesday the Living Room Kitchen Student Group met with Mark from PAUA Architects to show options for the interior of the Living Room that they will choose. It was exciting for the students to have this responsibility and they took it on board diligently with peer discussions and working through set criteria to get the final result.

Students explored a range of building features including water conservation.


19 Aug 2019: The students in the Year 5/6 Sustainable Elective have been learning about conserving water, hardships faced by people in developing countries that do not have water readily accessible and the importance of sanitation. Through their learning, students have designed a hand washing machine made of recycled materials that meets set criteria. They are busy making these devices and evaluating their success against these specific criteria.

Year 3 and 4 students prepare seasonal food in the kitchen.





20 Aug 2019: Students in the Year 3/4 Sustainable Elective are learning about the seasons and reasons they change. They are also learning about gardening in winter, foods that are available to harvest, seeds that can germinate and seasonal recipes they can make.


Builders explain progress to the students.

30 Aug 2019: The Year 5/6 students in the Living Room Kitchen Group had their fortnightly meeting with the builders this week. They were excited to have their first experience of being inside the kitchen area now that the roof is on and it is waterproof. The building foreman Kieran gave a detailed explanation of the progress since the last meeting, with the insulation, pre-wiring, roofing, skylights and other developments. Our students asked thoughtful questions as they engaged in conversations with the builders. Another fabulous real-life experience for our students.


Attaching the lining paper.

13 Sept 2019: This week when our students met with the builders of the Living Room Kitchen, Shaun Begovich explained the substantial progress made. The roof is nearly complete, the exterior board and batten, and the interior linings are well underway. The students could see where the six kitchen benches go, the window and door areas and they were able to help with the lining of a wall.


Sept 27 2019: At our Living Room Kitchen student site meeting this week with the builders, it was really exciting for students to see the colours they had chosen for the painted walls completed. This is another opportunity our school provides to engage students in real-life experiences and for them to know their opinions, ideas and decisions are valued. The students also selected the type of exposed aggregate concrete for the pathways and seating areas. A lot of thought, consultation with each other and reflection has gone into this process.

The exterior of the Living Room Kitchen is looking fantastic and the solar panels are in place too.



The water heating system is installed.

Grands and Greats are given a tour of the gardens as the building continues.










Students speak at the kitchen opening.

Nov 8 2019: It is with great excitement that we are having the opening of our Living Room Kitchen on 6 December 2019, 2.00 pm. We would like as many supporters and past students involved in this student-led project to come along and celebrate their contribution and success (See banner photo).


June 26 2020 It’s great to have all of our Sustainable Student Groups back in action with their positive attitudes and readiness to help the Environment. The students in the Enviro Council are learning about what previous Enviro Council groups have done, so that they can continue this journey. They have chosen to continue our Wrapper Free initiative and are now looking at updating our school’s Sustainable Vision Map. We are so lucky to have such motivated students in our group.


June 26 2020 The Backyard Garden Group dedicate their Tuesday lunchtimes to helping in our fruit and vegetable garden, preparing food in the Living Room Kitchen and helping in our school gully. They have a diverse range of skills and so much enthusiasm. Students have commented about how lucky they feel to be able to cook in our new Living Room Kitchen.

Students follow a recipe as they prepare food in the new kitchen space.


“This real project will leave a valuable legacy to our future students. We are proud to be contributing to this.” – 2017 yr 5-6 sustainable elective.


Footnote from the Enviroschools National Team: To hold such a long and ambitious project and stay true to the kaupapa of holistic, student-led learning and action takes a whole school community. It requires trust and commitment from school leadership and experts along the way who honour students’ ideas. Most of all it needs a courageous teacher who will continue to get the best out of students using sound facilitative enquiry approaches and reflective practice. We mihi to Michelle White who has contributed so much to the Enviroschools Programme.