Hauora top priority at Hastings Girls’ High School

Issue: Volume 99, Number 20

Posted: 3 December 2020
Reference #: 1HAFDk

Hauora and wellbeing are key facets of Hastings Girls’ High School’s Covid-19 preparedness plan and have resulted in schoolwide transformational changes.

Like most schools around Aotearoa with just days to prepare for the Alert Level 4 lockdown in March, planning for school closures and meeting the needs of students and whānau was turbo-charged.

“Early on, even before going into lockdown, we established that teaching and learning were going to come second to hauora. We knew that the teaching platform was going to be really different,” explains principal, Catherine Bentley.

“For many of our girls, lockdown wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience, given some of the circumstances at home. It really did highlight the inequities for us.

“When we went into lockdown, we put together an extensive plan – we had, and still have, a series of ‘buckets’ if we go into lockdown again. Some of the buckets include curriculum, communications, hauora. Each member of our crisis response team is responsible for leading a bucket,” she says.

Connections essential

Catherine says they knew they had to act quickly and their actions needed to centre around connections.

“About nine days before lockdown,” she says, “we started building an at-risk register for our students and staff. We had already worked out who were going to be our most at-risk students. Part of that was to get a register of devices and address how we could stay connected.”

Hastings Girls’ High doesn’t have a BYOD policy, but within days the school was able to provide some form of connection for about 90 per cent of students, whether it was digital devices or connections through whānau or outside partners such as the Police or Pacific church groups.

All the school’s computers were loaned out and the school bought 30 cellphones, which were distributed to students. The school’s board agreed to fund wi-fi for some students.

“We never took the devices back. We made that decision from the outset that there’s no way we can give devices to girls for improved teaching and learning because of the pandemic and then take them back!”

With the potential threat of going into lockdown, the school bought the Seesaw app as a way of maintaining social connections between the school, students and whānau.

“Before lockdown, we did staff training on setting up Google Classroom and using Seesaw and we then outlined our critical response plan for Covid.” says Catherine.

“Just two hours later, we were training the girls on how to use Seesaw, so they could touch base with their Akina coach [form teacher] each day.”

Focus on hauora

The school’s website was collapsed and turned into a Covid-19 response plan platform, which included blogs keeping students and whānau regularly updated.

The back part of the website was for staff: “Staff very quickly got au-fait with all sorts of tools that they could use and they started sharing those. We had PD blogs on the staff website, which became a bank of resources,” says Catherine.

All communications, including teaching and learning plans, were published on the website and the timetable was rebuilt every three days.

“We did this because we were getting voice from the students and staff all around their wellbeing,” says Catherine.

“We had staff with their own families at home who were struggling and it was about keeping that lens on hauora. We were able to be really responsive to the needs of staff and because we were really open about getting feedback on the three-day timetable, very quickly we got buy-in and high trust from staff.

“If it was going to work, we needed all staff on board. We had Seesaw groups set up for staff – checking their wellbeing as well as the students’.”

With a focus on wellbeing for students and staff during lockdown, each student had just one block of time – about 80 minutes – for teaching and learning each day. The first block of the day – about 90 minutes – was set aside for Akina coaches to connect with the students in his or her group.

“We continued like that through the entirety of lockdown. We made a decision early on that the focus had to be on maintaining hauora, so we would be really careful about how we shaped the teaching and learning.”

Return to school

The school recognised that the return to school might be challenging for many of its 640 students and several measures were put in place to ease the transition. Return to school was staggered by year group and students in Years 11–13 spent the first week or so in kāhui kaupapa ‘bubbles’.

“When the girls returned, they were greeted by staff, and given a lanyard which showed what kaupapa they were going to. We did the return a year group at a time. This was because we knew that many of the students would be very vulnerable given their experience of Covid and the implications that had on them and their whānau,” explains Catherine.

“The focus of the return was that every single girl would have time with a teacher to unpack their Covid story, to revisit their learning goal, to co-construct if their learning goal had changed and what steps we could put in place to support them moving forward.”

Students opted into the kāhui groups based on a subject area to which they felt a strong affiliation. These included visual arts, maths and science, and a kāhui korowai for girls taking te reo Māori.

The Pacific community was most worried about returning to school as they had seen the impact of the measles epidemic in Samoa: lalaga se fou – a kāhui kaupapa group was set up for these students.

“We did the kaupapa to keep the students safe: the focus was on their hauora. The kaupapa groups were cross-curricular. Back at school, the girls were still working in their kaupapa. They still had access to – they still had access to all their other subjects but they were in a space that they connected with strongly – that was their space in the school. By the end of that first week, we had 98 per cent of our students return,” says Catherine.

Timetable transformed

So popular were the kāhui kaupapa hubs that the school’s timetable has been reimagined. Monday to Thursday, classes have been reduced to three 90-minute blocks per day and on Friday students work in their kaupapa groups.

“There’s been a lot of PLD to go from teaching a 50-minute lesson to teaching a 90-minute lesson. But the girls appreciate it. The whole rhythm of the school has slowed down. In 90 minutes, the girls can dig far deeper into a subject and have time to do the deeper thinking – they’re not rushing from one class to another.

“Student feedback is that teachers often think they know what’s most important, but for students it’s not what’s most important for them. So girls in visual arts can work on a painting for the whole of Friday if they want; or they can do science. Staff run mini-workshops, or they might have one-to-one tutorials, but it’s not teaching as you imagine it,” says Catherine.

The reimagined timetable has resulted in an increased number of senior cross-curricula courses being offered next year. There will be an additional Engineering your future junior science and maths hub, which will provide a pathway for girls who are interested in health science or engineering.

“That’s all come about because of the kāhui model,” says Catherine.

Community care

With the focus on hauora, students at Hastings Girls’ High School felt well cared for and Catherine says that plans for a ‘Uniting Through Kindness’ day to celebrate a return to normalcy were fast tracked, with a feast for more than 800 people enjoyed by the wider school community.

“After the first two weeks when we heard about some of the experiences and challenges some of the whānau were facing, we decided that we needed to fast-track our ‘HGHS Uniting Through Kindness’ day where we worked with Iwi. Whānau came on a Saturday afternoon: we had a hangi for 500 that the staff had prepared, Pasifika food for about 300. We had a real celebration.

“We gathered a whole lot of bedding and warm clothes and we set up tables upon tables of clothes which had been donated and whānau came in and took whatever they needed. It was a really beautiful day,” she remembers.

Feeling prepared

Catherine feels the school is well prepared should the country again go into higher levels of Covid management. When Auckland went into Level 3 in August, senior leadership at Hastings Girls’ High began planning for the possibility that their school could be closed the following week.

“We started planning and put together the buckets and presented that to the staff on the Friday afternoon saying we may not be back on Monday. We’re all ready to roll.

“If we had to go back into lockdown it would be pretty similar. We would reignite Seesaw, our critical response team would gather, we would put together the list of vulnerable students and staff again. The website would revert to being a response plan again and we would push people there so that would become the port for whānau to access information.”

The journey continues

With a mantra of aiming high – ‘singing above the note’ – and putting the girls at the centre of everything the school does, Catherine acknowledges the key roles her staff play and says the future looks exciting.

“The staff are incredible: they are innovative and courageous, because they are doing things that no-one else is doing and that’s really scary.

“We were on a journey prior to Covid anyway: Akina has been with the school since its beginnings, but we have reshaped our curriculum to embody ‘akina’ – we have surged ahead.” 

Students enjoy kāhui kaupapa

  • “We get to choose what we want to work on. We don’t have to work on a specific subject – we can work on whatever we like and still have the support from the right teachers.”
  • “It’s good independent time. It’s nice to work on your own for a whole day and work on what you want to work on.”

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

Posted: 11:57 am, 3 December 2020

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