Any parent hunting for a new home will often prioritise a great school ahead of a modern kitchen or even a wonderful community. Find all three and you don’t hesitate.
Mother of three Amber was already living on the Sunshine Coast when, she recalls, “I was attracted by the new primary school opening in Baringa.” And not just any school: Baringa State Primary School was Queensland’s first Science, Technology, Maths and Engineering (STEM) School of Excellence. STEM education is increasingly regarded as critical for Australian children to be able to excel in future jobs, in any industry.
Amber, who came to Australia from the US as a 19-year-old to study at James Cook University in Townsville and now works in medical equipment sales with Smith & Nephew, is well aware how important STEM learning is for her children, now aged 7, 9 and 11.
As well as the future, Amber also had daily lifestyle considerations in mind. “I was commuting 25 minutes each way to take them to their old school, and getting them there was always fussy and annoying and none of their friends lived nearby,” she says. “So when I found out the new Baringa State Primary School was opening, immediately I said, ‘Let’s move there and get into this new STEM school – that’ll be great’.”
Her kids have just started their third year at the STEM school, which says Amber, is “awesome”. If there’s any downside, she jokes, it’s that “A lot of the time, I really can’t help them with their homework! My eldest is nerdy in a good way and often gets picked for extra camps. She had a virtual reality [VR] camp over one school holidays where they made a VR room … it was amazing. The whole world relies on technology, and it’s great they’re learning it so early, and for free!”
Now living within the Aura community, the kids’ school commute has gone from almost an hour each day to a blink of an eye. “This year, they’re going to start riding their bikes and scooters to school,” says Amber. She says that the “real community feel” about Aura attracted her from day one. A couple of years in, “we have great friends and neighbors and I love that there are really awesome parks everywhere. We don’t have a great big yard but it doesn’t matter because there are three excellent parks only walking distance from our house for the kids to go and run and play.”
Those parks get the big tick of approval from her kids. “They have so many different things to do: climbing ropes and rock walls and flying foxes, then there are active parks with workout equipment and a trampoline park … parks I would have thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I was a kid. We were lucky if we had a swingset and monkey bars!”
Her primary-school aged kids can now get to and from school under their own steam, and Amber is completely relaxed about letting them head out on their own in those parks. “They have a crew of little kids all around the same age and they all meet at the park, and know to come home before it gets dark,” says Amber. It’s a reminder of a simpler time. “I love it – they’re doing what kids are supposed to do, not being stuck at home staring at electronics.”
Amber and her family actively embrace the Aura lifestyle. “It’s a really great community,” she says. “I go to Spirit Pilates, which is right next to the IGA. There are new community walking groups, there are night markets and family movie markets on the grass. We take a blanket and some snacks and wine to share with the other mums! There are food stalls sometimes. The kids love it.” Clearly it’s a very social occasion for the adults, because Amber isn’t quite sure what the last movie they went along to see was (she’s pretty sure it was Madagascar 2)!
For now, the family is renting, but Amber “definitely plans” to buy a house in the Aura community. In 2021, her eldest will start at the brand new Baringa High School, which will continue the STEM education focus. “They’ll open it up two years at a time, so the school will grow with the students. It’s a great place to live, as long as good people keep coming – and I’m saving up my deposit!”