Finding flow turns attendance tide

Issue: Volume 102, Number 5

Posted: 20 April 2023
Reference #: 1HA_Ta

A mighty project at a Waikato school strengthened confidence, motivation, and leadership qualities using a te ao Māori approach, and provided an enrichment experience like no other for 17 ākonga, with an impact deeper than imagined.

Te Pikikootuku participants take on a tree-top challenge.

Te Pikikootuku participants take on a tree-top challenge.

The Waikato River provided a fluid focus for ākonga at Hillcrest High School – literally and metaphorically. A deeper understanding of the origins of this body of water only touches the surface of the rich learning absorbed by a group of rangatahi who formed the inaugural Te Pikikootuku project.

Project lead Tai Te Rito drove implementation of the programme, alongside then deputy principal of Hillcrest High School, Jarred Williams. The pair worked alongside the school’s head of Te Reo Māori Caseymia Hawkins, as well as Aroha Crombie and Nick Bryant of Te Roopu Whakaruruhau, focusing on Māori engagement and achievement.

Tai says selection for the camp and related activities was strategic, with several guiding factors being considered.

A total of 17 wāhine Māori students in Years 10 and 11 were chosen from 78 on the school’s roll.

“The focus was to get a mix of low academic performers, with low engagement, to highly engaged, high-performing students in leadership roles,” says Tai.

“The main objective was to increase engagement and attendance and to lift the performance of our female Māori students across the board.”

The initiative originated from the 2019 Regional Mentoring Project called Kaiwananga, which focused on Year 12 and 13 Māori students who were most at risk of not achieving NCEA.

Following the impacts of Covid-19, the re-tailored Te Pikikootuku project kickstarted this year based on previous learnings. This programme added two optional assessment tasks to give students a head-start to NCEA – traditionally only offered to top band classes or gifted students, this aimed to break old mentalities for both ākonga and staff.

“Since Covid … a couple of girls had even stopped coming to school altogether. We wanted to do something to address this; something that brought people together to focus on growing and learning with one another and to create a better sense of unity,” says Tai.

Positive momentum

Ākonga embarked on a camp expedition, experiencing complementary learning activities, informal mentoring, and target tracking. With a ‘circuit breaker’ ethos, the programme hoped to create positive momentum among student collective, developing motivation and engagement in curriculum subjects on their return to school.

Te Pikikootuku uses te ao Māori as a unifying foundation. Finding a focus for the project that combined cultural and academic learning was down to Tai.

“After looking into different ideas, I chose to base the learning around the Waikato River... by following the river from its origins in Taupō ending up in Hamilton, taking in different points along the way.”

The group visited several locations along the trajectory of the river; places that illustrated how this is not simply a body of water but a taonga (treasure), a tuupuna (ancestor) and the mauri (life force) of Tainui and wider communities.

Wāhine learnt about the concepts of kaitiakitanga and mauri, aligning with science and further enrichening their cultural understanding and sense of belonging.

On their travels, team-building activities prompted wāhine to challenge themselves in situations requiring varying amounts of courage. Jetboating along the river in Taupō was the most adrenaline-fuelled of the character-building opportunities.

“Being able to actually ride on the river – at speed – was one of the highlights for the girls. The jet boat trip was definitely an experience to remember,” says Tai.

Wāhine also visited Huka Falls with a local iwi leader to witness the force of the river, as well as the location of ‘terraces’ at Orākei Korako, where they engaged in a science lesson as a group.

“The students gained a deep understanding of the relationship between Tainui and Tūwharetoa at Huka Falls and the history behind this, as well as the connection of the river to both iwi. There was so much character building along the way, as well as opportunities for the wāhine to learn more about their culture and about science,” says Tai.

Unity shone through team building and cultural learning along the Waikato River.

Unity shone through team building and cultural learning along the Waikato River.

Agency and leadership

Tai stresses the importance of expectations being communicated and clarified from the outset.

“An important part of pre-learning was getting everyone together as a group to give everyone an understanding behind what we were trying to achieve as a collective.”

Ākonga were given the chance to achieve NCEA credits during the programme, by taking up leadership opportunities. Tai was pleased that many did. And was even more pleased with some of the post-expedition outcomes.

“The primary focus of this kaupapa was to strengthen the confidence, motivation, and leadership qualities of our young wāhine using a te ao Māori approach, and in doing so, drive-up engagement and attendance, which I can safely say we managed to achieve.”

Te Pikikootuku did this, and more. Tai says ākonga responded really well to the camp experience itself, and their efforts and engagement transformed when they returned to the classroom.

“There were a couple of older students who were the self-nominated leaders of the group, if you like. Like many, they had the potential but were disengaged at school. However, one student went on to pass Level 1, gaining an excellence endorsement.”

Although in its first year in 2022, it is hoped the project will continue at the school, as well as providing a proven blueprint for other kura to follow.

Since last year, Tai has followed his former deputy principal Jarred Williams to Napier Boys’ High School, where the pair can look to their past success with
Te Pikikootuku.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:32 am, 20 April 2023

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