Ākonga engage with local governance in Thames

Issue: Volume 103, Number 8

Posted: 27 June 2024
Reference #: 1HAh25

A new student governance programme in Thames brings local students and district councillors together, resulting in tangible changes such as improved lighting and updated district plans.

Year 7 and 8 students meet with Thames-Coromandel District Council to experience local governance and decision making.

Year 7 and 8 students meet with Thames-Coromandel District Council to experience local governance and decision making.

Young people in Thames-Coromandel are getting involved in local governance and community development through an initiative by Matatoki School and Thames High School.

In late 2023, Matatoki School principal Hine Viskovich and Thames High School learning support coordinator Lisa Barnett began the pilot student governance programme now known as the Thames Kāhui Ako Youth and Thames-Coromandel District Council (TCDC) Forum.

The programme initially arose from a kōrero about how Lisa could support Hine and engage learners who were struggling.

“In te ao Māori we are very much about keeping our vulnerable ones close. And I am keen to minimise disturbances for our more vulnerable kids by keeping visitors to the school limited and keeping their space continuous,”
says Hine.

Their discussions segued into how they might extend those rangatahi who wouldn’t be harmed by missing some classes and who might thrive on opportunities out in the community.

At the beginning, 10 students selected from three local kura met with local councillors from the council once a month.

“We took students in Years 7 and 8 from three schools, Matatoki, Pūriri and Pārāwai. We needed whānau support as some of the meetings are outside of school hours.”

Sharing ideas

Hine says Thames District Councillor Martin Rodley was enthusiastic to start meeting with the students, and to have them experience local governance and decision making in action.

Students first met with councillors and learned about their long-term plan. They were then given large pieces of paper on which to write down all their ideas. When asked, “What are the problems and things that need changing where we live?” she says they were all amazed by the scope of ideas.

“The students have ideas beyond what is immediately related to young people’s lives. For example, they commented about local water systems, saying some of our water tastes like dirt, and asked questions like, ‘What is there for us to do in Paeroa and Thames? Why do we have to leave here to study or get jobs?’”

Councillor Robyn Sinclair said she had been impressed by the issues students have picked up and was thrilled to see those who joined the programme in Year 8 return in Year 9. This had been Lisa’s plan – for the group to continue from primary and combined schools through to secondary school and beyond.

Developing key skills

Students in the Thames Kāhui Ako Youth and TCDC Forum have divided themselves into four interest groups – water, arts, transport pathways and local business. Mentors from each area are being matched to the students to further develop their knowledge and experience.

“One group is attending a peninsula-wide forum on tracks and trails,” says Lisa.

The programme aims to teach advocacy, and to cultivate connection across communities and age groups.

“This group of 11 to 14-year-olds are all so beautiful and watching them communicate with councillors aged between 30 and 60 has been amazing. We are so lucky and fortunate that the council is open to the youth voice.”

Hine meets with the students once a week in her office to practise things such as shaking hands, looking people in the eye, and how to present in a meeting format. Students are also learning key skills when working in local governance, such as how to:

  • present ideas to authorities and conduct themselves in a formal meeting
  • listen to and contribute ideas confidently and with courtesy
  • critically think about and discuss ideas that impact on others
  • develop strategies and problem solve for local issues
  • identify challenges and considerations involved in implementing change or improvement
  • deeply consider ideas and respond to the group
  • identify existing and predicted issues and challenges, particularly for youth
  • learn about the different groups of people involved in decision making and project development.

Connecting across generations

Hine loves working with this group and their passion hits close to home. Hine’s uncle, Hiwi Tauroa, had many roles in his lifetime including headmaster and race relations conciliator. In that capacity, he began a programme where decision-makers, including local councillors, were invited to marae to foster better understanding and whanaungatanga.

“Being here is connecting to my past,” says Hine.

And with her tupuna, and Lisa at the helm of the programme, Hine is broadening the scope of local whanaungatanga and governance now and into the future.

In talking to councillors, students have made real-world improvements to their local community.

In talking to councillors, students have made real-world improvements to their local community.

Ākonga get results for their community

This list is some of the tasks, improvements and achievements that have come as a result of discussions between ākonga and councillors in Thames-Coromandel:

  • Checking night lamp lights (and more than 70 found to be not working).
  • Prioritising water treatment for Pūriri area.
  • Investigating having a youth page of events every fortnight in the local newspaper.
  • Upgrading existing water fountains.
  • Shared lots of ideas to make Thames more fun for youth, such as stalls on wheels, more festivals, cooking lessons in commercial kitchens in town, cultural eating experiences and mobile beach entertainment.
  • Using hard-copy newsletters which are easier for students to access and read as opposed to digital ones sent to parent emails.
  • Creating and administering a school survey about the new community pool.
  • Voting on artwork to be displayed around Thames.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:33 am, 27 June 2024

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts