Cyn Smith reflects on ‘back to basics’ Tihoi life

Cyn Smith reflects on ‘back to basics’ Tihoi life

11 November 2020

She left at the end of Term 3.

Cyn had been sole Director at Tihoi for the last four years, a role she had held jointly with her husband Chris Wynn (1988-92) from 2006, until he had a career change in 2016 to become a commercial helicopter pilot.

She spoke to Network, from the family’s new home at a lifestyle block in Kinloch. Staying in education, Cyn, 50, has started a new job for the charitable trust Growing Future Farming. The trust trains school leavers wanting to go into careers in farming.

Chris, 46, works as a helicopter pilot in the agriculture sector.

Cyn and Chris and their three children, including son Blue (Sargood 2015-18) have lived and breathed Tihoi. Now she has left, they can reflect on what she describes as ‘a good time in our lives,’ and the remarkable achievement seeing more than 3000 students go through Tihoi under her watch.

Cyn says Tihoi is a classic “university of life” as the Year 10 boys grow as people in 18 weeks. She loves the holistic – or Hauora – nature of the programme which underpins the Tihoi philosophy.

“It is a residential programme which mixes outdoor education with community living and academic teaching. So, it is all about the whole person.”

It is unique not only in New Zealand, but globally, where on average 140 St Paul’s Collegiate Year 10 boys each year spend six months at Tihoi.

“It is the only programme in the world where the students take responsibility and live in houses like in a flatting situation. So, they cook their own dinners, for example.”

“It is a really progressive programme from when they start. We teach them the basics and they cook their own food, do their shopping, and run the house on a budget.”

The boys get to know themselves, and their peers. “It is the growth and independence in teenagers as they learn to look after themselves and prepare themselves for the senior school and academics.”

It was a ‘24-7’ job, running the centre; overseeing a staff of 16, the pastoral care, academic teaching, and outdoor education which the boys do for three days per week – including kayaking, rock climbing, abseiling, tramping, sailing, caving, camping and mountaineering.

She would travel to the main school campus in Hamilton, at least twice a term, to prepare the next intake for arrival.

The second 2020 intake had 71 boys. The school ran two intakes this year, each shortened by two weeks, to allow for the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

The Tihoi experience is probably more relevant now, than ever, she says – a point many people reflected on as Tihoi marked its 40-year anniversary in 2019.

“The kids need the independence now probably more than they did 40 years ago as they manage themselves.”

“They are screen-free, they are learning who they are and the true value of the life journey.”

“That ‘back to basics’ philosophy is what we always try to strive for. But we also have to keep up to speed with digital learning.”

Students have Chromebooks in their classrooms, and wi-fi connections. “But it is all supervised and only for academic work and then it is screen-free apart from that academic time.”

“Most are fine. A few have too much dependency on entertainment from the screen, so they take a little bit of time having to talk to others. But they get used to it pretty quickly and the more appropriate use of technology in their lives rather than it being a dominant part of their lives.”

She speaks of the satisfaction seeing boys complete a long run at the end of their Tihoi experience.

“We have started doing a half marathon at the end. When most of them start they can’t even run 3 kilometres. But by the end they run a half marathon on their second to last day. So that is cool.”

She says many boys think there is no way that run that distance, but it shows what they can achieve when they work hard and believe in themselves. “If you set yourself lofty targets then you can hit them.”

And what will she miss about Tihoi?

“Well, it is a great place to live… a nice quiet rural landscape and environment.”

“And as with any job, you get out, what you put in. Working alongside students intensely, while that is challenging, it is also really rewarding.”

Tihoi’s new director is Peter Evans, who was previously an outdoor instructor at Tihoi for 30 months between June 2011 and December 2013.

He comes from the all-girls outdoor school Kahunui in the Bay of Plenty, operated by Auckland’s St Cuthbert’s College.