Zoe’s Gone Kiwi: School Days in the Mount

Hi, this is Zoe!  I’m writing to tell everyone about my Kiwi experience at Mount Maunganui Primary School.  I’ve been a student at MMPS for 6 weeks now and I love it. I am a Year 5 student which is like being in 4th grade at home.  I spend my days in Room 15, a classroom with 30 other students in both Year 5 and Year 6 (ages 9 and 10).

Me, in Room 15, my class!

Me, in Room 15, my class!

My classroom is on the far left

Outside view of my classroom which is on the left side of the red brick wall

This is a view of the hall inside school

This is a view of the hall inside school

Here is a typical day for me at school:

Wake up at 7:30am (ok, I don’t usually get up until 7:45).

Eat breakfast and make my school lunch, still half asleep.  Put on sunblock, make sure I have my sunhat (required for all students in New Zealand, totally annoying), gather my togs (bathing suit) and towel for swimming, water bottle and lunch box, and off we go!  Thayer and I ride our scooters to school with either Mom or Dad walking with us.  We have to be at school by 9:00 but I like to get there early, around 8:30ish.  If you are early you get to play with your friends in the classroom from 8:30 on, or outside on the playground.

I always hang my back pack on the first hook, next to the crosswalk flags. The hook is hidden so it's always available.

I always hang my back pack on the first hook, next to the crosswalk flags. The hook is hidden so it’s always available.

When the 9:00 bell rings, all the kids have to be inside and we sit down in a group on the mat in the front of the classroom.  I usually like to sit right in the front, by my teacher, Mrs. Barnett.  Mrs. Barnett is a really kind and sweet teacher. She never gets too angry with the class and she makes work really fun.  She also knows when we are getting antsy and ready to move around so sometimes she sends us to run a lap of the obstacle course around the field outside or she tells us to “stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down” in Maori.  I usually get confused because I don’t speak Maori (not taught in New Hampshire!) but I am learning.  Once we were all standing in a single file line and I was in the front (of course). Mrs. Barnett told us to all “E noho” which means sit down.  I had no idea what that meant, so I stayed standing while everyone behind me sat down and I had no idea I was the only one still up.  Mrs. Barnett said to turn around so I did, and I saw that everyone else had sat down. We all laughed.  Even me.  Mrs Barnett said “I bet you didn’t think you were going to have to learn another language in New Zealand!”

Mrs. Barnett and I

Mrs. Barnett and I

The first thing Mrs. Barnett does each morning is call the roll (this how they say “taking attendance” here).  She says a greeting to each of us and we have to answer back a different greeting.  Like if she says “hola Zoe,” I might say, “Kia Ora, Mrs. Barnett” which is a Maori greeting that I learned.  Then, Mrs. Barnett uses my greeting for the next student and on it goes like that.

Mrs. Barnett taking the roll. I am on the far right in front, being blocked by a boy…hello… this is MY picture!

Mrs. Barnett taking the roll. I am on the far right in front, being blocked by a boy…hello… this is MY picture!

Next, Mrs. Barnett reads out “notices” off the computer.  These are like announcements for the school.  For example, today’s notices were that the MMPS Surf Club should meet in the Hall at lunch time with their lunches, and there will be a school-wide Assembly in the Hall at 2:30.

Then, our entire class goes to swimming.  Yep, every morning at 9:10am.  Our school pool is tiny, not like a real pool, so we usually do races 4-people at a time.  A lot of people complain about how cold the water is but I think it’s refreshing.

After we dry off, we go back to the class and are assigned our first piece of work for the day.  Here are my subjects at school: Maths (they always have an S on the word Math), Topic Writing (like creative or structured writing), Handwriting, Reading (in groups), and Spelling.  This week we just started getting homework assigned for the first time.  I get it on Thursday and have to complete it by the following Thursday. It is 20 math facts (5 minutes allowed but it only takes like one minute), 10 spelling words, and then we have to do 15-30 minutes of reading on our own.

This is the inside of my desk, with all of my academic workbooks and my sun hat too. Super messy!

This is the inside of my desk, with all of my academic workbooks and my sun hat too. Super messy!

The academic part of my school is really different from what I’m used to.  Everything at MMPS takes a lot longer to do because there are 31 kids in my class all doing the same assignment.  At home I go to Montessori school and everyone there is kind of doing different things based on their skills and interests.  The teachers aren’t trying to get 30 kids to focus on one project.  I think it is a lot more tiring for Mrs. Barnett to keep 31 kids listening and focused!  So the academics don’t seem as hard or challenging as my school back home but it’s still really fun to be in school here.

We have been working on graphing for maths and I did one on the computer

We have been working on graphing for maths and I did one on the computer

“To be a Mountie”

MMPS started a new theme this year called “To Be a Mountie.”  A Mountie is a made-up character representing the ideal student at the school, and he/she is in the shape of a mountain because of Mount Maunganui. Here is the Mountie.

Poster in my classroom about the Mountie

Poster in my classroom about the Mountie

The characteristics that we are trying to learn are: being a communicator, self manager, learner, and team player.  A lot of kids are trying to improve on these skills, but Mrs. Barnett says I’m doing really well with all of these already.  She told Mom and Dad that she is going to kidnap me for the rest of the year!  I don’t think so!  

About my friends

Kiwi kids are really really nice.  One funny thing is that most Kiwi kids never wear shoes, even when they are skate boarding or scootering!  When we first met my principal, Mr. Harris, before school started, my Mom asked him what kind of shoes we had to wear to school.  He said, “Oh, you don’t need shoes.”  Mom thought she misheard him so she asked again what exact kind of shoes, like close-toed or flip flops or sneakers and he said, “Really, most kids don’t wear shoes to school.”  And he was right!  I usually wear “jandals” or flip flops on my scooter but then I take them off for the whole day.  This explains why my feet are always black when I come home from school.

Anyway, all the kids at school are very interested in learning about my trip this year and about America, and they love listening to my accent.  The girls are all very sweet and fun and I’ve made HEAPS of friends.  The boys are sporty, tall (most of them), goofy, sometimes naughty, and most of the time annoying.  My friends like to whisper about who has crushes on me but I’m not interested!  One boy asked me out on a date (NO!!!). Hello, I am NINE.  

Other Cool Stuff

There are so many extracurricular things that I’ve done at MMPS that I haven’t done at my school back home.  For instance, we did a week-long bike safety course last month.  On the first day we watched a safety video and talked about bike safety and what we’d be learning over the next four days.  The boy in the video actually DIED because he made bad choices while cycling, but it was a made up story.  At least it taught us what NOT to do!  For the next two days we were practicing riding our bikes on the netball court.  We learned our hand signals: left, right, stop, and straight.  And we were also learning our SSS (stop, signal, scan).  The next two days we were on the road!  We even got to cycle past our house and Mom and Dad saw me on the road.  Parents were invited to volunteer so Dad came (mom gladly “volunteered” him) and rode on the road with us for about an hour. It was so fun!  We even learned how to go around a New Zealand roundabout on our bikes, which is tricky.  We had to hold our right hands out the whole time to signal where we were turning off the roundabout, which made it even trickier! I’m probably going to have to learn all my skills again when I get home because everything here is on the wrong side of the road for me.  I was a bit confused for a while there.  I even went around a fake roundabout on the netball courts the entirely wrong way because I forgot that I was not at home.  Mrs. Barnett and I had a good laugh.  

Getting ready to hit the roads on our bikes during bike safety week - Yeah!

Getting ready to hit the roads on our bikes during bike safety week – Yeah!

I actually learned a lot of things during bike safety that I never would have learned at home.  For example, which vehicle has the right of way and what to do when you get to a T intersection, left turns and right turns on NZ roads, and how you have to ride with the traffic etc.  I feel way more comfortable riding my bike on the road now and I think it was a fun, great, and educating activity to do at school.

Another really cool thing that all students do at MMPS each year is a Try-athalon.  We compete by grade level and gender, and you can choose if you want to be in a fast group (Greyhounds), a proficient group (Alsatians), or non-competitive group (the Bulldogs).  I wanted to be an Alsatian because I’ve never done a try-athalon before but Mrs. Barnett encouraged me to be a Greyhound instead and I’m SO glad!  

With my friends, before the start of the Try-athalon

With my friends, before the start of the Try-athalon

Ready for the Try-athalon, with my number on my hand

Ready for the Try-athalon, with my number on my hand

Here is how they do it.  We are placed in a heat of 3 or 4 kids.  We start in the pool and swim four lengths (laps).

With my friends, cheering on the swimmers in other heats

With my friends, cheering on the swimmers in other heats

Swimming my laps...

Swimming my laps…

I was in a group with two other girls who were both really good athletes.  I was last out of the pool in my heat, but was really quick to get on my bike and was first on my way to the bike course.  We had to ride on the road outside of school for a pretty long way!  Bike safety really helped us with this.  It was like a 2km bike ride, all by ourselves.  Maybe more.  I’m not sure, but it was far. 

This is my bike, shoes and helmet, ready for action

This is my bike, shoes and helmet, ready for action

I rode with my friend Charlice, which was fun!

I rode with my friend Charlice, which was fun!

After the biking, we ditched our bikes and did our run, again off school property and around the neighborhood.  Who knows how long it was, but to me, it was LONG.  I stayed with Char (in photo above) again which really helped. She is a great athlete and kept me running.

Starting the last leg of the race, on my last legs!

Starting the last leg of the race, on my last legs!

Char and I powered through the run together

Char and I powered through the run together

At last, we finished the race but we had no idea how we did for our time because they calculate it all when everyone is done.  I knew I was just behind Char. Later, I found out at Assembly that I actually came in third place out of all the Year 5 girls!  I was really excited!  

After the race I was  tired and out of breath - or "puffed" as they say here

After the race I was tired and out of breath – or “puffed” as they say here

Me and my friends, after the race - super fun!

Me and my friends, after the race – super fun!

The last thing I want to write about is when I went on a two-day overnight with my class at the Lazy Tramper Lodge in the Kaimai Mountain Range.  It was a 30 minute drive through the hills to get there.  I was REALLY nervous to go camp because I thought I would be homesick and also I didn’t know any of the grownup chaperones besides Mrs. Barnett and one other teacher.  I don’t have any actual photos from camp because we weren’t allowed to have cameras.  It turned out to be the best camp ever!  I had so much fun with my class and we played a lot of fun games like Bush Flags (capture the flags in the bush) and other team-building games. On the first night we made hamburgers and my team got awarded 80 points for having a great meat patty that we filled with new and unusual ingredients like garlic, onion, rosemary and herbs that I brought from home.  There was also a water slide made out of rubber laid out over a track, ending in a big mud pool.  It was FREEZING!  I went 20 times each day.  For real.  There was also a water hole.  There were two pools that you could swim in, also FREEZING, and two rock slides that you could slide down.  It was so amazing. I wore my wetsuit which really helped.  There was also a really beautiful small waterfall that made it even more exciting. 

At camp, we did something called The Burma Trail.  You follow a path through the wilderness in the pitch dark, in groups of four or five, holding onto a rope to keep you on the path.  The parents hide in the bushes around you but you can’t see anything.  They rustle the bushes and jump out at you, trying to creep you out. It works.  One of the teachers (I don’t know who though) said “I want one of you” in a deep and scary voice, and grabbed my shirt and pulled me back!  I shrieked, and he let go.  After the Burma trail we got hot “milo” which his like hot chocolate and biscuits (cookies).  I think the Burma trail was all about building your courage and getting you into trying new things, and finding out things about yourself that you never knew (like you were really scared, or you could do it despite being super scared).  I was relieved after I finished the Trail because I didn’t think I could handle it and it was all so new for me, and I feel really glad that I accomplished it.  Now I want to do it again!  

Even though I don’t have photos of camp, I DO have this one photo of my baking preparations for what I decided to share with the group.  Dad was my baking assistant.

Dad and I baked heaps of cookies for my overnight camp

Everyone loved my “American” cookies!

I have two weeks left of school here and I really don’t want to leave. I’ve had a great time learning about public schools in New Zealand and I would love to come back here another time and continue at MMPS.  I love being a Kiwi student – it’s been a really cool experience along this 10 month trip.  I’ll miss my friends a lot when I leave but I know that I’ll never forget them! 

Thank you for reading my blog post. My Mom made me write it as a chore.  I hope it wasn’t a chore for you.  I know you’re laughing. 

The "chore-master" and yours truly, at school one afternoon

The “chore-master” and yours truly, at school one afternoon

Categories: NEW ZEALAND, Zoe's Gone Kiwi: School Days at the Mount


  1. Zoe, I am your meme’s college roommate, and also a retired teacher. I’ve been so looking forward to hearing about school in New Zealand, and you certainly did not disappoint! What I love is that you can do so many things off of the school campus and not worry about liability, time on learning, and those crazy things we worry about in the U.S. It sounds like your experiences will stay with you forever; a much better way to learn, don’t you think? Thank you for sharing your adventure! I’m living and teaching in Thailand, so I’ll be anxious to hear your impressions of your visit here.

  2. Hi to the amazing and beautiful Demers family!! We have loved reading your posts and hearing what you have been upto! Zoe you really made us laugh with your post! I am glad to hear you are putting kiwi boys in their place and it sounds like you have the education system sorted out too! We were wondering if there was any chance you could fit in a wee trip to Taupo? We have a Bach there and were wondering if you would be keen to meet up and spend a few days together before you leave NZ? Maybe drop us an email. Hi to everyone. Andrew, Kylie and Hannah at Rangitikei Farmstay xox

  3. Zoe, what an amazing job you are doing and what a great blog! Can’t wait till Hong Kong. Love, Pops

  4. Zoe,
    You did an awesome job of describing what your school day is all about! It was not a chore at all but entertaining with your sense of humor.
    I am so proud of the way you make friends so easily. Loved your description of your overnight and overcoming any fears. There is always a sense of accomplishment when we get out of our comfort zone. Great job, wish I could hug you. You shine!
    P.S. Love your goal of going into the ocean with dad everyday and impressed how you are sticking to it!

  5. Zoe, I WAS laughing, while reading, but not a chore at all. I’m happy to hear, you like your school. Can’t wait to read more. XOX

  6. Zoe what an amazing job you did on your blog. I almost felt that I was there. I am so happy that you love school, what an experience. Love and miss you so much. JOJO

  7. Zoe, Thank you for sharing your time at school with us. I think about you and my girl’s everyday. I constantly hear your singing in head, what a joy!. Your experiences are molding your life for your future, allowing you the ability to change the world.

  8. Hi Zoe;

    I feel so lucky that I have actually been to your school, so reading all about it on your marvelous blog made everything you describe seem so very real! I am so proud of you, and I am sure that all your Kiwi friends will miss you when you leave, especially the boys. 🙂
    I hope that you can keep in touch with the friends you have made, and with your teacher.
    Have a good trip to Hong Kong and everywhere else. I want to hear all about your adventures in the Far East.
    Lots of love
    Aunt Jean

  9. Zoe, reading your blog post was a delight! You are a gifted writer and of course I love you and your cute family. Thanks for letting us experience this amazing adventure with you. For school, Gabe had to write a blog about his favorite family member. He refused to do it because he didn’t think it was fair to pick favorites. Ask the “chore-master” what you do about that one? 🙂

  10. School sounds like a blast there! We miss you guys. Have fun:)

  11. Zoe, I loved hearing your voice and it did make me smile. After this long cold New York winter, how I wish I could be there going in the ocean every day and best of all, NO shoes!
    With love to you and all your family from Aunty Pickle’s mom and dad, Jeannie and Bob

  12. Oh my goodness Zoe, you are such a talented writer!!! I read your writing sample last week and was amazed by that but this is even MORE amazing!! I love the way you include so much detail in your descriptions, your personal thoughts and the procedures for things you have done. We really need to share this with the class so that others can see what can be done if you have the motivation and will to succeed. ( and great parents to support you …)
    I noticed you have commented about not having camp photos. You can look at them on our class blog or if you want your own copies I am happy for you to put them on a memory stick so that you can take them home and load them. Let me know if you would like to do this before you go. ( There are over a 1000 photos !)
    Room 15 have loved having you in our class. Your discussion ideas and willingness to help others has been very motivating for many students. We really will miss your happy, smiling face each day. ( but then your’e not really leaving are you?, I thought we were going to kidnap you….)
    Please keep in touch with us at : room15@mtprimary.school.nz or on our class blog.
    All the best for the rest of your wonderful journey.
    Kind Regards
    Mrs Barnett

  13. I loved this post, Zoe, and as usual, you had me laughing the whole way through! How cool that you get to start your school day with a swim in the school pool. I also like the “no shoes” concept. And what a star you are for doing the “try-athalon” – was it weird to bike and run in just your “togs” and sneakers? Did any of the Kiwis do it barefoot? Glad the “choremaster” hasn’t lost her touch. 🙂 xoxo pickle

  14. Well done, Zoë. You have your mother’s writing skills. Very clever, very interesting. I loved reading about Kiwi kids going to school barefeet. in Holland we wear wooden shoes to go to school as you might recall. Isn’t Holland a looooong time ago ? You’ve seen so much of the globe now…Cheers,

  15. Hey Zippy! First off, barefoot to school? How cool is that! Your school seems fun! Looks like you make friends easily— a great trait to have! Way to go on your tryathalon and overnight trip…..shows just how courageous you are! I totally get why Mrs Barnett thinks you’re worth kidnapping 😉 We miss you! Love you!

  16. Yeah, I wish I had gone to a school like that! Glad to see you’re having a blast !

  17. Hi Zoe–I love your blog post and all you have to say regarding your time at MMPs. It is wonderful to read about your new school through your eyes– So I’m thankful to the chore master for that! How great that the day starts out with a swim–get the blood flowing–I like that. The idea of no shoes suggest a sense of freedom–I like that too! In the States, in a traditional public school, the day is broken up with so many subjects–but in MPPS the focus seems to be on Math, Reading, Writing, and Life Skills–a true foundation. The Camping trip with team building and the bike safety course are both so important and FUN! And your first Try-athalon absolutely fabulous–you should be so proud. You never know–maybe the New York City Marathon in the future or the Lake Placid Triathlon. I have to say that your description of the Kiwi boys sounds very much like the boys I taught at my school–it must be a universal thing.
    Zoe, your writing is so pure and honest –it is as delicious as those chocolate chip cookies you made to share with your new friends. Thank you for sharing–keep writing–I look forward to reading more.

  18. Zip, you little heartbreaker! Mads and I are really impressed with all of your swimming, she and I would need floaties and a life jacket to make it across the pool alive. Miss you so much xo ash + mads PS. ugh chores!

  19. i already miss you zoe

  20. WOW Hope you have a great trip From Zac

  21. Hi Zoe, I have gone through the photos I took on camp and have a selection of you including a video going down the water slide! Let me know if you would like me to send them to you. Unfortunately I don’t have any of you creating the flax flowers.


  22. Nooooooo you are not allowed to have this much fun without me. STOP
    Jk I miss you sooooooooooo much 🙂
    No but really, like, come back. NOW.

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