education.govt.nz

Family values at the forefront of So’otaga programme

Issue: Volume 99, Number 5

Posted: 25 March 2020
Reference #: 1HA6sC

A multi-faceted programme called So’otaga (making connections) earned Holy Family School in Cannons Creek an Excellence in Engaging award in the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards – and the impact on student achievement and wellbeing has been significant.

 

Nikolah and Jeremiah in the playground at Holy Family School

Nikolah and Jeremiah in the playground at Holy Family School

For the past three years, Holy Family School in Cannons Creek has held a careers expo, which has seen the school hall bursting with over 1,000 people from the school community, along with career role models, many of whom are former pupils or whānau.  

Hundreds of children and families attend the school’s community barbeques, which are another opportunity to build relationships and better engage the rich resource in the school’s community. 

It’s all part of a multi-faceted approach which earned the school a Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Award in Excellence in Engaging in 2019.  

About four or five years ago, the Porirua primary school surveyed former pupils who reported they didn’t feel confident alongside their palagi peers at high school. 

To address this, the So’otaga (making connections) programme was launched in 2016. Discussions were held with the school community (tamariki and whānau) about what they wanted from their school and a collaborative Vision of Change was developed. 

Adelaide, her son Rakaviah, principal Sue and Metua enjoy a kōrero in the So’otaga room

Adelaide, her son Rakaviah, principal Sue and Metua enjoy a kōrero in the So’otaga room

The career expo is just one of the programme’s initiatives. It’s become so popular that this year’s expo in March was scheduled to be held at Bishop Viard College. Unfortunately it was postponed due to the COVID-19, but it’s hoped they’ll be able to hold it later in the year, says Mary-Jane Simmons-Godinet, who has taught at the school since 1996.    

“A big focus is that we want our students to achieve. We don’t want them to be limited; we want them to know what is out there when they leave Holy Family and college,” she says. 

Connecting children, whānau and school 

So’otaga was initiated by former principal Chris Theobald and former deputy principal Gina Lefaoseu. Chris is now principal at Bishop Viard College, and Gina manages the So’otaga programme for Holy Family and the college, which provides continuity and ongoing support for pupils. 

Metua Tengaru is now at the helm of Holy Family’s So’otaga programme, which has contributed to increases in academic achievement from 2015 when 45–50 percent of students were average or above average standard, to 65 percent of students now achieving this standard.  

“So’otaga means making connections – with the child, parents and the school. It’s about building communication, relationships and making our families feel comfortable and confident to come into the school so they fully understand where their child is at with their learning,” says Metua. 

“We develop a reciprocal relationship in a less formal environment. The programme helps families develop a deeper connection to school that is solely focused on their child’s learning,” she adds. 

Resources for families 

Older children like Olu and Metallikah mentor local preschoolers, like Noah, in the weekly Tama Ikiki programme.

Older children like Olu and Metallikah mentor local preschoolers, like Noah, in the weekly Tama Ikiki programme.

Holy Family School provides resources and runs workshops giving parents ideas for teaching their children at home.  

“We invite families to come into our So’otaga room to talk – we want to get to know them a lot more. With our meetings with the parents, we set simple achievable goals around what we want the children to achieve.   

“There are academic, cultural, social, careers goals and a ‘phenomenal’ goal. Phenomenals are traits to build their confidence and a goal might be being a risk taker in class – so ‘put your hand up’. An academic goal may be around reading because the child doesn’t like reading. So we will talk about resources or methods we can teach the parents to help with reading,” explains Metua. 

Home visits succeed 

She says that some parents may not have had good experiences at school and feel alienated from schools. 

“We do visits to homes for those families that have trouble coming in. We’ve had a couple of families where the parents didn’t come into school for a couple of years. It took a while to build one mother’s confidence. 

“Previously, her child would never stand up in front of a crowd and speak, but at the launch of the programme in 2016, she spoke in front of 500 people. We were so proud of her – and mum was there; her family were around as well,” says Metua. 

Out there and confident 

Adelaide Matthews was one of those parents who took a while to get involved. Now she is a teacher aide at Holy Family and facilitator for So’otaga.  

“When Metua first talked to me about introducing the programme, I was thinking ‘it’s all right, I don’t need it, I do all that at home with my son anyway’. But then she mentioned they could help with resources and better equip me to teach my son and help him. 

“Learning was a struggle for me at school and I didn’t want that for my son. I didn’t want him to be held back, shy – because that’s how I was. It blossomed from there. I wanted to be a part of it because my drive for my son is for him to be out there and confident,” she says.  

One of Adelaide’s roles is helping to run workshops. 

“Our school diaries connect school and home and we had a diary workshop to help the parents understand the different ways their kids can achieve and that you can put the negatives and the positives in,” she explains.  

Building confidence 

Tama Ikiiki mentors and student ambassadors Zahara, Olu and Goryvafalaya hang out in the playground.

Tama Ikiiki mentors and student ambassadors Zahara, Olu and Goryvafalaya hang out in the playground.

The school has worked hard to raise student confidence by taking tamariki out of the school environment, says Mary-Jane. 

“We have been taking groups out into the businesses, into the community. For example, we will take a group to meet [Children’s commissioner] Judge Andrew Becroft. They are all very supportive of what we are aiming for. 

“We’re 90 percent Pacific, 10 percent Māori, so there’s not a lot of palagi in our school, so we do need to take them out of the comfort zone. We don’t want them to be passive – you have to be a driver in your learning,” she explains. 

“And it works!” adds Metua. “You feel it, you see it – the changes in the students as they go through the years here.” 

School is family 

Mary-Jane says Holy Family has always had ‘amazing’ pastoral care.  

“We have our beautiful breakfast. Children and whānau can come in and have a great start to the day. On average we get about  

50 a day, and then once they come in, our whānau become volunteers.  

“Holy Family really is a family – it’s living and breathing that name. We’re very lucky – our students are very respectful. They come from very loving homes. We’re just an add-on,” says Mary-Jane. 

New principal Sue Goodin is excited about the potential to continue the good work:  “An incredible foundation has been built here at Holy Family. The partnerships between home, school, and community are real.  

“The impact on student achievement and wellbeing is enormous. I look forward to continuing these traditions in the years to come,” she says. 

SENCO and classroom teacher Mary-Jane, with some of her Year 4 students, is a keen advocate of the benefits of the So’otaga programme.

SENCO and classroom teacher Mary-Jane, with some of her Year 4 students, is a keen advocate of the benefits of the So’otaga programme.

Connecting with the community  

The So’otaga programme is an umbrella for a range of initiatives, which include:  

  • welcoming each new student and whānau with a pōwhiri 
  • daily breakfasts where tamariki and whānau are welcome 
  • Tama Ikiiki – transition to school for under-5s run by Year 5 and 6 students 
  • home visits: getting to know families to help break down barriers 
  • the 45s – 45 minutes each day when a small targeted group of learners and their teachers focus on enriching their literacy 
  • DMIC(external link) maths introduces problem solving and showing families their cultures are enriched with maths 
  • learning maps where students write (and talk) about learning experiences out of school 
  • aspirational career expos featuring whānau and community role models 
  • former pupils as motivational role models. Chris Te’o is a founding member of USO Bike Ride and teaches children how to ride bikes and be safe on the road 
  • actively empowering parents to be persistent in pushing for a quality education for their children  
  • taking students to meet a wide range of people, including public figures. 

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

Posted: 3:23 pm, 25 March 2020

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