Kohimarama School: 100 years of community, learning and growth

Issue: Volume 100, Number 13

Posted: 14 October 2021
Reference #: 1HAQS3

As Kohimarama School marks its centennial this year, the community is living with a global pandemic – just as their founders did. The difference in how today’s community is affected is a striking illustration of how times have changed.

100 years ago: Kohimarama School opened in 1921.

100 years ago: Kohimarama School opened in 1921.

When the doors of Kohimarama School opened in 1921, it was a time of hope and optimism for New Zealand following the devastating loss of life from Spanish Flu (9,000) and the Great War (18,000). Virtually every New Zealand family had been affected by the death or serious wounding of someone close. 

Exactly when the Kohimarama School community had planned to be celebrating its 100-year anniversary, it was instead hunkered down under Level 4 Covid-19 restrictions as the nation grappled to contain the Delta outbreak of Covid-19.

Learning in lockdown

Like schools across Aotearoa and particularly those in Tāmaki Makaurau, the teachers and students of Kohimarama School are accustomed to distance learning and connect daily.

Almost all learners have their own devices for remote schooling and connect using the learning management system, SchoolTalk. This allows staff to share their learning design and students to engage in the lessons, share their work and enable them to see their progress. 

“We use it on site and we continue using it during lockdown so for us going into Level 4, the learning continued the next day,” says principal Paul Engles. 

“The other thing we do is have Google Meets every day, sometimes about work but essentially to connect and have fun. We want to maintain that relationship with the children and support them to stay connected with each other.”

That sense of connection and community is a prevalent theme in Kohimarama School’s history. Indeed, the school, originally a branch of nearby St Helier’s School, was founded at the urging of parents who believed the area needed its own school.

The one-room schoolhouse opened in 1921 with 54 founding students. Within a year there were three classes with separate groups for junior boys and junior girls, ‘primers’, and a third class for children in Standards 1 and 2.

Today the roll is exactly tenfold at 545 students and the school remains on the same two-acre site in the picturesque beachfront suburb. Classes are divided by year, except for three composites in years 0/1, 4/5 and 7/8, and rooms are a mix of single-cell and modern learning environments (MLE).

With the roll predicted to increase to 950 by 2030, Paul expects to see the number of classrooms increase to meet growing demand.

Kohimarama School entrance 1948

Kohimarama School entrance 1948

The Kohimarama Way

Of course, the style of teaching and learning has changed dramatically from the rote style of yesteryear. Today the school’s culture is centred on ‘The Kohimarama Way’, the school vision supported by a set of values and dispositions considered most important for tamariki to be learners and citizens. 

“Our children are growing up in a constantly changing world where they will encounter different types of jobs, technologies and world challenges. ‘The Kohimarama Way’ underpins how we’re preparing them to succeed in this world by teaching them new ways of learning and working together to solve problems. It supports our desire to develop positive habits and character in our children,” says Paul.

“’The Kohimarama Way’ is also incorporated in teacher planning, which means the concepts are actively practiced as part of everyday learning. Each class learns for example: What is honesty? What does it look like? How do we practice it? What are the signs of success that show we have understood the concept?” he adds.

Additionally, during break times, teachers are looking for pupils who are showing ‘The Kohimarama Way’ in practical situations and awarded ‘Caught being good’ certificates.

Embracing te reo Māori

Kohimarama School today: learning in action for Room 1

Kohimarama School today: learning in action for Room 1

Perhaps the biggest difference evident since Kohimarama School’s founding days is its commitment to biculturalism. Teacher in charge of Māori, Kate Cadzow has developed a website, ‘Te Reo at Kohimarama Kura’, devoted entirely to te ao Māori for the school community. 

Ākonga can click to find texts, images, and videos in small, digestible chunks to learn te reo, waiata, Māori meditation/whakatau Tinana me Hinengaro, fitness through kanikani/dance, and traditional pastimes including poi and rākau. 

Paul says Kate’s work embodies the Kohimarama vision – We dream/moemoeā, we inspire/whakaohooho, we create/waihanga, we empower/whakamana.

“She dreams, ‘this is what we could do’, she is inspired by the people around her and the different courses she goes on, she creates – she created the site and the plan for how it would work for our school, and she’s empowering other teachers. All the teachers do the same in their own way, we have a very strong school culture amongst our staff.”

Enduring community support

This team spirit has boosted morale during lockdown when teachers meet online not just for planning but for fun catch ups. Staff also take part in daily quizzes and share new recipes on a cooking blog.

In turn, the staff are supported by the school’s PTA, which organises appreciation morning teas and has arranged gift bags for teachers during lockdown. 

Kohimarama School today: learning in action for Room 13

Kohimarama School today: learning in action for Room 13

“Back in 1921 the school had a strong parent community, and we still have that today. Parents want to be actively involved in their child’s education, to support them in any way they can, and they want to support the school,” explains Paul.

In 2021, support means rolling with snap lockdowns and all the attached challenges. Big-ticket centennial festivities have been bumped forward to the 101-year mark, early-2022, but the school is still celebrating its milestone this year through a variety of activities.

These include a whole-school photograph, a quiz-a-thon with a history theme, and the history of the school interwoven into day-to-day learning is planned. The school is also publishing its own cookbook using recipes supplied by children and families.

Next March, the school will stage an art exhibition, host an open day, and throw a 1920s-themed gala dinner.

Anticipated return

In the meantime, learners, whānau and teachers stay connected digitally with an impressive engagement rate of more than 98 percent and look forward to getting back together at Level 2.

“We’ll spend much of the first week back settling into school and having fun and playing games, getting to know each other again and getting back into routine,” says Paul.

“Students’ wellbeing is our biggest priority and we’re already planning how to help them feel safe when we return.”

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

Posted: 9:30 AM, 14 October 2021

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