I am a cafe owner

Issue: Volume 100, Number 2

Posted: 25 February 2021
Reference #: 1HAHG3

Education Gazette visits Huntly College to see how its innovative approach to curriculum design is helping to transform learning for students like Richelle Wahanga.

Richelle won a GirlBoss award for her efforts.

Richelle won a GirlBoss award for her efforts.

By her own admission, Richelle used to be “mean”.

“We never talked to anyone, we weren’t nice and stuff like that. We were mean,” says the Huntly College student, who is now in Year 11.

It seems hard to believe the girl she’s describing is the same girl talking to the Gazette now, but principal Barbara Cavanagh confirms the change. Richelle grins as Barbara describes her transformation.

“It’s so lovely to see Richelle with no big hoodie over her face and being able to see her chat nicely and interact with the others,” she says.

So, what has brought about the change?

Huntly College Kitchen

Richelle, with the help of friends Laticia and Mangaaki, set up a school café, Huntly College Kitchen. Motivated by a class investigation on being a café owner, with the help of teachers, the girls established the café with tables and seats from other classrooms. They took a barista course in Hamilton, ordered the food and soon they were ready to go. Now that it’s up and running, Richelle trains others to help operate the café.

The 14-year-old’s initiative has been widely celebrated. She won a prestigious GirlBoss award and has appeared on Māori TV and Seven Sharp.

“Ever since we started the café, we’ve started going to classes more. I think it’s mainly just talking to people more that’s made the difference,” says Richelle.

“As a café owner she was forced to talk to people and suddenly she’s a chatter!” says Barbara.

I am a volleyball coach

The class Richelle took that sparked the Huntly College Kitchen initiative was called ‘I am a café owner’, one of many ‘I Am’ classes that make up a large chunk of the curriculum at Huntly College.

Barbara shares how learning is structured at the 200-pupil school. All students have 100 minutes each day with their Puna Ako class, which covers literacy, numeracy and global events, as well as close input from their teacher on goal setting, subject decisions and pastoral care.

On top of their Puna Ako tutorials, all students choose four modules each trimester from a wide range of ‘I Am’ classes, which cover everything from ‘I am a magazine creator’ to ‘I am a Rongoa Māori practitioner’ to ‘I am a volleyball coach’.

“It’s about giving students the ability to choose their own contexts,” explains Barbara, who has been principal at Huntly College for three years.

“Why we put the ‘I Am’ modules into place is that kids here don’t have a lot of experience of people apart from teachers. So how do they know what a lawyer, a scientist or a politician actually does?”

“You don’t set out to study an important subject like science to do an NCEA assessment. The purpose is to be a scientist. So rather than having NCEA as the final outcome of a course that you study, NCEA sits underneath and provides the framework quite rigorously.”

Barbara gives an example: “If you’re teaching ‘I am an NBA basketballer’ you’re teaching the kids how to be a really good basketballer, but within that context they’re doing literacy, maths, hauora and how the body works – all those things in a context that the kids are excited by.”

Huntly College students Richelle (right) and Laticia (left) were inspired to establish a school café after taking one of the courses featuring in the school’s innovative curriculum.

Huntly College students Richelle (right) and Laticia (left) were inspired to establish a school café after taking one of the courses featuring in the school’s innovative curriculum.

I am a Dungeons & Dragons player

Similarly, the ‘I am a Dungeons & Dragons player’ module incorporates digital technologies curriculum content and has many creative elements.

“They’re writing stories, creating characters. So writing becomes not just that thing you do – it’s got a point to it.”

Teachers have to plot the NCEA assessments carefully through the module. “It’s very carefully crafted. I totally believe that the more structure you have, the more ability you’ve got to have flair. I’m a great proponent of NCEA but I don’t think it’s ever been used in the way it was intended. There’s huge flexibility.

“For example, you teach a beautiful subject like English – there’s journalism and all these things in it and at the end you do an NCEA assessment. NCEA should sit at the bottom to provide the structure and then at the top you’re going to be a lawyer.”

Leaving nothing to chance

Incidentally, Richelle has her sights set on being a lawyer, after being inspired by the ‘I am a lawyer’ module she took last year.

“Richelle is going into Year 11 – so if she wants to be a lawyer, she will have to start taking the right subjects. Her Puna Ako teacher will guide her with this and she will get there,” says Barbara.

The Puna Ako class is a crucial part of the curriculum. Students remain in the same Puno Ako class from Year 9 to 13 so their teachers get to know them very well.

“In the Puna Ako programme we do deliberate literacy and numeracy and global issues. All our students have read Jacinda Ardern’s March (2020)lockdown speech, various speeches of Donald Trump’s, Kamala Harris’s acceptance speech. They discuss river rights, Ihumatao – I want them to have a view, to be critical thinkers.

“We don’t leave anything to chance. Here, every teacher in the school teaches literacy and numeracy. That means they can also teach the I Am modules.
So when the students go to their I Am classes, they’ve got the tools to do it, and so have the teachers,” explains Barbara.

Building a culture of learning

Barbara acknowledges that attendance and engagement is still an issue for the school, but they are moving in the right direction.

Huntly College principal Barbara Cavanagh says their approach to curriculum has made learning fun and relevant.

Huntly College principal Barbara Cavanagh says their approach to curriculum has made learning fun and relevant.

There are lots of factors contributing to this progress. The school is strengthening its ties with the community, tikanga is integrated into everything the school does. And the school’s approach to curriculum, teaching and learning plays a huge part.

“What it’s done for the school really is build that culture of learning and going to class, and being excited about learning and having fun,” says Barbara.

Richelle’s reaction when talking about expanding the café is a testament to this approach. Her eyes widen slightly at the question: if you could do anything else to improve the Huntly College Kitchen, what would you do?

“I would put a TV in there and couches so that students can come and watch and eat and hang out together,” she says. “Yep, that’d be cool.”

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

Posted: 9:41 AM, 25 February 2021

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