Meeting the needs of remote rural areas to lift attendance

Issue: Volume 102, Number 7

Posted: 1 June 2023
Reference #: 1HAa8S

The challenges of maintaining engagement in learning are exacerbated when students span a remote rural area of the motu. In the King Country Te Rohe Pōtae, distance is part of daily life. But it is proving less of a barrier thanks to the extensive, expert support being offered by an attendance service in the area.

The Whanganui River runs through Central King Country.

The Whanganui River runs through Central King Country.

Providing tangible support in a challenging environment, Te Manu Kōrero O Ngā Mātauranga – Rural Education Activities Programmes (REAP) Attendance Service is leading to improved attendance and outcomes for rural students.

“We see ourselves as a conduit between home and school,” says Central King Country REAP education manager Jenny Gawith.

“We support the theory that schools must be able to work closely and engage with whānau to determine the most successful education plan for students. Whānau need to feel included in decisions for their children and their education.”

Te Manu Kōrero O Ngā Mātauranga – Central King Country REAP (CKC REAP) was established in 1980 to provide supplementary and complementary education services for the people of the region. It is one of 13 Rural Education Activities Programmes in New Zealand, based on the belief that local communities are best able to identify and direct resources to meet their specific needs.

Structure is key

Jenny Gawith and Temorie Wihongi with Felix the Anti-Bullying Mascot for Taumarunui schools.

Jenny Gawith and Temorie Wihongi with Felix the Anti-Bullying Mascot for Taumarunui schools.

Jenny knows the effectiveness of REAP’s suite of support tools and is proud of the impact of its Attendance Service, not only on individual students, but their schools, and more widely. Practical and strategic engagement are both key, from delivering care and learning packs to liaising with education and welfare organisations on multiple levels.

“Through our mahi at CKC REAP, we have a close working relationship with all our schools. Maintaining structure in the delivery of the contract has been important for it to work well. This structure also ensures accountability from us as the Taumarunui Attendance Service and our obligation to our community.

“For example, we hold an inter-agency attendance hui twice per term. This helps to maintain a close relationship with stakeholders within the attendance space. And we report to the Central King Country Principals’ Association twice per term.”

On the ground, REAP delivers – in many ways. Jenny explains the initial engagement approach.

“Where possible, we meet with the child who is not attending school. If a child is to successfully participate in school, their needs and wants have to be considered. Often, they are overlooked and their voice is not heard.
We endeavour to find out from the student themselves their concerns and reasons for absenteeism.”

Upholding mana for all

A kaupapa Māori approach ensures delivery is consistent and conducive to creating positive relationships.

“We take a care package to whānau on initial visits, so we don’t turn up to their homes empty handed. CKC REAP supports the purchase of some essential items to gift to a whānau, with our packages usually including fruit, tea or coffee, milk, bread, jam, biscuits, cereal and personal hygiene products,” says Jenny.

“Often, whānau are quite scared that their child or children are involved in ‘truancy’. We try to show empathy and genuine caring to uphold mana and respect for all.”

Over the years, Jenny says they have bought school uniforms, lunch boxes, backpacks and stationery and, before the Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches Programme was introduced, the service would provide school lunches.

A recent development has been the supply of period products to schools and their students, a lack of which has previously proved to be a regular and significant barrier to attendance.

“Through collaboration with our colleagues from
Te Mahau, Te Tai Whenua (central region), we have been able to secure period products for our whānau,” says Jenny.

“We note that ‘period poverty’ is real and certainly impacts on school attendance and participation for some young women.”

Central King Country educators gather together for professional learning and development.

Central King Country educators gather together for professional learning and development.

Collaboration and community

“We continue to work closely with other agencies and, if needed, we will call upon stakeholders to support us in the attendance space,” says Jenny.

“We use local connections to support our mahi. We have a very close working relationship with local police, especially the Youth Aid constable who supports school attendance. Our Kaumātua have also, at times, helped us to engage with a whānau or a student.”

Working alongside colleagues from Te Mahau, Jenny says they have produced learning packs to care for different age levels, which have been delivered during home visits.

The annual ‘Taumarunui Shears’ shearing competition.

The annual ‘Taumarunui Shears’ shearing competition.

In-school support is provided following home visits to monitor attendance levels and offer additional services that may increase engagement in learning.

“When we return a student to school, we do a couple of visits to the classroom to check on their progress. We try not to close a referral until good attendance patterns are established.”

Another aspect of this attendance lifting work is He Roopū Wāhine Matariki – a weekly programme for young women. The focus of the programme, held at REAP’s Taumarunui base, is:

  • Citizenship
  • Friendship
  • Relationships
  • Support (of community, self, and others)
  • Tuakana-teina
  • Personal self-development

“Attending school on a regular basis is hugely important,” says Jenny.

“Every day counts towards a child’s learning and pays huge dividends for their future. Regular attendance is needed for children to continue learning and improving their basic reading, writing and other skills they need. REAP works to help students and families where attendance is a concern.”

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:45 am, 1 June 2023

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