In the classroom at Dilworth. Photo: Supplied
In the classroom at Dilworth. Photo: Supplied

PartnersApril 27, 2020

How an Auckland school is responding to the Covid-19 crisis

In the classroom at Dilworth. Photo: Supplied
In the classroom at Dilworth. Photo: Supplied

Dilworth School was founded on the principle of providing quality education for students from families in hardship. Now, as Aotearoa prepares to navigate a post-Covid-19 world, they’re stepping up.

Nestled among Auckland’s leafy suburbs, Dilworth School’s normally bustling grounds have been eerily quiet in the past month.

The boarding school for boys, which has two main campuses in Newmarket and Remuera, has a proud legacy of providing students with opportunities normally inaccessible because of family circumstances – notable past students include All Black and Chiefs forward Angus Ta’avao and former Prime Minister Mike Moore. While Covid-19 has caused significant disruption to the academic year – Dilworth’s boarding set-up meaning that it is unlikely to fully reopen until the country reaches level two alert status – the school is also aware those outside its immediate community are facing tough choices. 

That climate of adversity is why Dilworth and its values are more pertinent than ever, headmaster Dan Reddiex says.

“When you come back to the purpose of James Dilworth’s will, and him outlining what the school is about, it’s about parents of good character who are facing straitened circumstances,” he says. 

“Well, we’re right at the heart of those straitened circumstances now. It’s a time when people are potentially going to find themselves really struggling financially, not just in the immediate term, but also in the medium to long-term.”

“For a lot of those parents, one of the primary concerns is going to be about the quality of education that their children receive. I think that’s why at this point and time, it’s really important that we’re signalling that Dilworth may be a viable option.”

Dilworth headmaster Dan Reddiex. Photo: supplied

The school, which caters to students from years five to 13, was established as part of philanthropist’s James Dilworth’s estate in 1906. Dilworth came to New Zealand from Ireland via Australia in 1841. He left clear instructions for the type of school he wanted, stipulating in his will that it should provide for “orphans, the sons of widows and the sons of persons of good character, of any race, and in straitened circumstances with such maintenance, education and training as to enable them to become good and useful members of society.”

Reddiex says all students at Dilworth – currently 575 in total – receive a fully funded scholarship, worth about $35,000 a year. The costs of the school are covered by the Dilworth charitable trust, which is responsible for a range of assets including the school’s own central-Auckland sites. One of the school’s more notable purchases over the years has been the old Hotel Du Vin site in Mangatawhiri, south of Auckland. The school converted the 15ha property into a “rural campus” where year nine students now spend their full school year. 

As families consider their options for the coming months, Reddiex believes Dilworth’s own values may resonate with those uncertain about the future. He also emphasises the impact the school has had on families, as well as students. Often, parents have been able to upskill or take on extra responsibilities at work, furthering their careers, he says. Having a son (or sons) attend Dilworth has eased the financial burden and time constraints that prevent that.

“That has a really positive effect on the family unit as a whole, and the wider community,” Reddiex says. 

Camilla Tuivaiti with sons Ethan and former Dilworth head boy Elaijah. Photo: supplied

Camilla Tuivaiti and her sons Elaijah and Ethan are proud members of the Dilworth community.

Elaijah was head boy at the school last year, and his younger brother Ethan is a year 12 student. Tuivaiti, a nurse at a Māori health organisation in South Auckland, says the school has been life-changing for their family. 

“I was just a working parent, working as a nurse,” Tuivaiti says. “The Dilworth scholarship assisted our whānau – like many others – in enabling the boys to board and fully focus on their academic and sporting pursuits. There are so many opportunities around music and other cultural activities, and the staff demonstrate a genuine passion and dedication to the boys’ overall wellbeing, in that they encourage and nurture boys self-esteem, self-management and independence.”

Tuivaiti, who currently has a full house with both boys and their 16-year-old sister Eleisha at home, says that as well as the school’s focus on a well-rounded education, its general culture of inclusivity has also been invaluable. 

“Dilworth is inclusive and encourages parents and caregivers to attend school services, sporting, cultural and academic which provides an opportunity [for families] to be a part of the wider school community.”

Having her boys at Dilworth has also enabled progression in Tuivaiti’s own career, which has been essential to the family’s overall development. It is a story she has heard repeated in different versions by “many mums” over the years.

“Me and quite a few of the other mums have done doctoral studies,” she says. “We certainly wouldn’t have been able to do that without Dilworth’s contribution. Progressing up the career path and being able to do postgraduate studies has been a common theme when I’ve spoken to other mums.” 

Dilworth old boy and trust chairman Aaron Snodgrass. Photo: supplied

Trust chairman Aaron Snodgrass is a former pupil himself. Like Tuivaiti and Reddiex, he is passionate about the opportunities an education at Dilworth brings. He says the school roll has doubled since his attendance in the early 90s, and the board is anticipating it will remain steady throughout the inevitable post-Covid-19 economic downturn.

“During these times, we tend to have an increase in applications. We really do encourage people to apply for their boys if they meet the criteria,” he says.

While the trust’s asset-base is solid, it is unrealistic to expect it to escape any impact from Covid-19. However, as with the 2007/8 financial crisis, plans are in place, Snodgrass says. 

“The trust is a long-term charitable trust and clearly when things are going well, our returns are more than when we have challenging times. We are expecting that our returns from our investment properties and financial assets will go down but we are prepared for these cycles.”

The number of scholarships and current school roll will not be impacted, he says. 

Reddiex adds that the period for prospective student applications for next year, which normally closes at the end of June, will likely be extended because of Covid-19. He also expects to see more new students across all year levels. 

“The majority intake historically is at year five, year seven and year nine. We’ll also probably be a little more flexible at other levels – say year six or year eight – this year,” Reddiex says. 

Having seen such profound impacts for her own family, Tuivaiti’s Dilworth experience is one that she’d emphatically encourage others to pursue. 

“I would hope that whānau would consider applying to Dilworth for a scholarship. For me, it was truly life-changing. And for them, it would be too. It will provide an opportunity for a solid foundation upon which their boys can achieve sporting, musical, spiritual, cultural and academic goals.”

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