Meet Heidi James – Motueka High School


Motueka High School teacher Heidi James is not a person to sit on the fence and worry. She believes in focusing on the issues where you can make a difference – no matter how small.

“I am very much a person who gets on and does something. There’s no point in worrying or complaining, we have to do what we can do and a lot of small changes can make a big change,” she says.

It’s that attitude that has seen Motueka High School’s relationship with the Abel Tasman National Park grow year by year.  Around half of the schools’ 700 students now visit the school’s adopted section between Anchorage and Watering Cove every year, with around ten different subjects using the park as their outdoor classroom.

“The partnership with Project Janszoon, DOC and Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle has really opened up opportunities for students that the school would not be able to achieve by ourselves.” Heidi is in charge of environmental education at the school and has been involved with the education programme for five years. This year saw her begin sharing the job of supporting both the adopt a section and Abel Tasman Youth Ambassador programmes with collegue Jane Sorenson.

Surprisingly, Heidi never thought she would end up being a teacher. She was born in Dunedin and grew up in Canterbury, completing a degree in Engineering Geology before heading off for a years travel.  When she returned she decided to go to Teachers College, training as an Outdoor Education and Environmental Education teacher

“I just loved teaching and while I was training I became involved in an Untouched World Charitable Trust project restoring Bluemine Island in the Marlborough Sounds so that fostered my love of nature and the environment,” she says.

She taught science at Ashburton College for eight years before moving with her husband to Motueka in 2013. “I have a passion. For me it’s about getting out there and engaging young people by encouraging their enthusiasm for the environment. In terms of authentic learning experiences, we can talk about it in class but it makes a huge difference if you can take a student to the park and provide experts for them to talk to,” she says.

Project Janszoon’s Education coordinator Brooke Turner thinks Heidi’s enthusiasm is contagious. “She has managed to get a huge number of teachers interested and engaged in the park. Her vision in seeing the endless possibilities for the Abel Tasman to be an outdoor classroom has been amazing,” says Brooke. 

For Heidi, the payback is tangible. “The feedback we get is that people are noticing changes in our adopted section at Anchorage and Watering Cove. They see Motueka High School students out there, transforming our section of the park. Little by little, our students are making a big difference”.

Photo Heidi James with Abel Tasman Youth Ambassadors Saskia Gray, Milan Chapman and Thomas Schwarzenbach above Anchorage

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