Meet Caroline Reddish – Director of Kahunui

Published January 30, 2024

Caroline Reddish chats to us remotely from Kahunui St Cuthbert’s second campus. It’s been pouring with rain in the Bay of Plenty wilderness, but she isn’t fazed. Her energy and passion are palpable as she talks about her role leading students and staff at Kahunui, and the outcomes of our unique programme.

Caroline has been working in the outdoors for the past 20 years, first as an outdoor instructor, then teaching Outdoor Education and Physical Education at secondary level. She is relishing the role at St Cuthbert’s which she started in April 2023.

Caroline is a long-standing Board Member of Education Outdoors New Zealand (EONZ), a national professional organisation leading, supporting, and influencing education outside the classroom.

She has held a variety of roles at St Paul’s Collegiate Tihoi Venture School, Green Bay High School, Hamilton Girls and most recently, Trident High School, where she was Deputy Principal. She also has a Masters in Educational Leadership.

With such a diverse range of experience and a strong background in curriculum development, Caroline is well-equipped to help students achieve the goals of Kahunui.

Although she is quick to credit the natural environment with a primary teaching role as well.

“The jaw-dropping landscape serves as a vehicle for learning resilience, interpersonal skills and confidence, but it’s not all about running around and getting muddy outside!” she explains. “It’s about having a go and realising that if you fail you can try again and succeed. Where this takes you, is nothing short of incredible.”

By encouraging students to step out of their comfort zones and embrace new challenges, Kahunui instils a sense of self[1]belief and accomplishment in girls’ abilities.

The Kahunui programme involves outdoor activities which range from tramping, sea kayaking, and blow-carting to mountain biking, fire lighting and survival camping. The girls live together in a house of 8 and are responsible for meal planning and cooking, managing house chores, environmental and social education programmes. The broad learning environment encourages girls to challenge and enquire – to think deeply about the world they live in and delve into problems to develop creative and innovate solutions.

There are several things that Caroline says attracted her to the role, including the amazing opportunity to empower young women. “There are not many outdoor centres specifically for girls, so it’s unique and inspiring to be involved.”

She also loves to teach the concept of environmental stewardship. “By instilling a deep appreciation for nature and sustainability, we’re encouraging students to feel more responsible for the environment in the future. For example, we’re working with the regional council on a goal of becoming 95% pest-free, Carbon Zero by 2030, and we have food sustainable practices through growing our own vegetables, and a zero-waste recycling programme”.

Caroline believes that supporting community initiatives around biodiversity, such as tree planting, is a great concept for girls to take away. “They then understand their individual ability to take action and make a long-term difference.”

Another focus is for students to learn about the history and culture of the area, as well as the role of local iwi. Kahunui is situated in a beautiful valley with rich manawhenua. “We ensure that students appreciate the significance of the land and its heritage, which promotes a sense of understanding, respect and self-reflection.”

Caroline also believes the absence of devices is key to the success of the programme. “With no phones, students learn to engage with one another more actively, with no distractions”, she explains. “They experience moments of boredom, which is important for our brains and personal development”. The perfect example is the ‘Solo’ time each week, which challenges students to spend time alone, fostering self-reflection and self-reliance.

Reddish acknowledges that the Kahunui journey is not always easy for all students, at first. “We do have girls who turn up nervous, but this changes quickly. As the programme progresses, students soon develop confidence, kindness towards one another and themselves, and resilience”.

She describes how tears can flow during the final week, as girls reflect fondly on their month away. The reluctance to see the programme end, is a testament to the incredible experience they have undergone. “I’m confident we’re doing something transformational, that girls will carry for life.” she says.

With her unwavering commitment to empowering young women and fostering personal growth, Caroline is an invaluable asset to Kahunui, shaping the lives of young individuals and preparing them for a future filled with possibilities.