Mentor programme brings WOW factor to ākonga success

Issue: Volume 103, Number 1

Posted: 25 January 2024
Reference #: 1HAepB

WOWbeing is on a mission to bring powerful positive change to Māori and Pacific ākonga and their whānau in Te Matau-a-Māui – and it’s creating a generation of leaders from primary through to secondary and beyond.

The WOWbeing team of brothers; Ausage and Tivaini Fomai (left and far right) and Davis and Tyson Ataera (middle).

The WOWbeing team of brothers; Ausage and Tivaini Fomai (left and far right) and Davis and Tyson Ataera (middle).

The ‘WOW’ in WOWbeing is not just a description of how triumphant the programme is. WOW stands for ‘Wellbeing of Whānau’ and speaks to the positive impact they wish to facilitate in their communities.

Leadership pathways are forged by instilling a sense of belonging, positive self-esteem and wellbeing through a series of mentoring programmes which start in Year 8 and continue to adulthood.

A close-knit team, WOWbeing is made up of two sets of brothers, Ausage and Tivaini Fomai and Davis and Tyson Ataera.

The inception of WOWbeing came from a desire to strengthen relationships between fathers and their children, says Ausage, adding, “the four of us are fathers, husbands and brothers so that’s where we started.”

All four have a background in professional sports, and forming WOWbeing presented an opportunity to work to their strengths.

As well as sports, they apply non-denominational faith-based values, play, performing arts, and culture to support ākonga and whānau towards “confidently navigating the world they live in,” says Tivaini.

The heart of the WOWbeing programmes remain grounded in the original kaupapa of connection, and relationships are prioritised and strengthened.

Opportunities for open communication and shared experiences between parents and their children is key in each of the four, carefully structured WOWbeing programmes: NiuGen, Atamai, Savali and Hiwa-i-te-Rangi.

Because the mentors understand the pressures of parenthood themselves, they “work to close the gap between parent and child and give them tools to be able to have conversations without judgement,” says Tivaini.

Some of those tools include homework tasks that require parent or whānau engagement. As one participant shares, “When my parents did the programme with me, our connection got closer and stronger, and they also found that I really like playing rugby. They didn’t know that until we were in a different environment and played rugby together.”

Full circle of support

Through proactive engagement with parents and schools, WOWbeing aims to form a full circle of support for ākonga.

WOWbeing creates comfortable, safe spaces for ākonga to build confidence and leadership.

WOWbeing creates comfortable, safe spaces for ākonga to build confidence and leadership.

“We work together, so between us, parents and schools we can provide three-way, wraparound support,” says Davis.

Completing the circle are WOWbeing’s own support systems. “Our families, our partners and children are all here, supporting us,” says Tyson.

Funding partners Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand and Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga Ministry of Education are also key to WOWbeing’s operational success.

“We need to be able to resource our mentors and the Ministry of Education’s Pacific Education Fund has helped us do that,” says Davis.

They also have a board of advisors made up of community and church leaders who provide support and guidance to WOWbeing mentors.

The aim is to build a framework of support for the transition to secondary school.

“We noticed there can be a fallout of care between primary and secondary school,” reflects Davis.

Ausage adds, “We focus on building leadership and independence in Year 8 so that when they get to secondary school, where they’re expected to be independent, we can be there for them and for their parents because we already have a relationship.”

Independence explored through the safety of collective support has worked well for Tagi, Year 9 at Hastings Girls’ High School. She shares that she went into her transition to secondary school this year with confidence.

“It helped me to see familiar faces because I already knew people from different schools through NiuGen. Knowing that others were going through the same experience, helped me to relate and know that I’m not alone.”

Inside the circle

Between them, Ausage, Tivaini, Davis and Tyson offer the NiuGen and Atamai programmes through all four primary schools in Flaxmere.

They then follow students through to their secondary schools and beyond, offering consistent mentoring through the Savali and Hiwa-i-te-Rangi programmes.

“We want consistency, we’re dedicated and fully committed to a 12-year vision,” says Davis.

Tivaini adds, “It has to be a big picture because what we want is generational change.”

As well as their in-school sessions, all four WOWbeing mentors come together twice weekly for combined sessions open to ākonga across all schools, as well as weekend sessions with parents.

WOWbeing’s drive for consistent, long-term mentorship allows space for the young leaders to build upon their own vision for themselves, and for their whānau to support them.

From the outset, WOWbeing centres ākonga holistic wellbeing with empathy. They are aware that the choices they make as mentors in terms of their approach can leave a lasting impression.

“We don’t call them kids or students; we call them leaders,” says Ausage.

Davis adds, “We know that what you’re called matters, it sticks and that’s why we call them leaders, right from the start.”

Leujos, a Year 8 NiuGen leader, says the WOWbeing values of respect, courage and integrity, and the culture of kindness, has helped him to feel safe and open to sharing in groups.

“Me and my friends connect a lot better because we don’t mock each other anymore, we don’t use our insecurities against each other because you never know what others might be feeling.”

Leujos has also found the confidence to step into his role as a leader at school and his efforts have been acknowledged with a school honours award.The NiuGen programme provides leadership training with whānau/aiga engagement.

The NiuGen programme provides leadership training with whānau/aiga engagement.

Walk your identity

The motto for the Savali programme is ‘walk your identity 24/7’.

Leaders in Years 9 to 11 are encouraged to connect to leadership through a cultural lens by practising the Pacific concept of tautua, leadership through service.

In the spirit of tautua, Savali leaders role model and support mentorship for the younger NiuGen and Atamai participants.

Tagi, now a Savali leader after completing the NiuGen programme at her previous school, shares, “I know I’m a better leader now because I’m able to open up and show the younger ones that it’s OK to share your feelings. If they see you doing the work and being kind, they will do that as well.”

Full-day sessions during term breaks give the WOWbeing mentors a chance to create one-of-a-kind, fun and inspiring experiences for their young leaders, like attending large-scale sporting events and meeting the players.

A balanced approach with experiential learning at its core, WOWbeing also use their programme time to impart strategies such as goal setting and journalling as well as life skills like financial awareness and entrepreneurship.

“We’ve got some of our leaders presenting their business plans at just 13 or 14 years old!” beams Davis.

From circles to cycles

 WOWbeing supports the physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing of ākonga and whānau/aiga.

WOWbeing supports the physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing of ākonga and whānau/aiga.

The results are extraordinary. Ausage shares that in a recent evaluation, “80 percent of our leaders felt more comfortable speaking in group settings. All but one of the NiuGen felt fully prepared for high school, so we’ve connected that one person with a Savali leader at their new school.”

At Hastings Girls’ High School, nine out of 11 Savali leaders received gold badges for 90 percent attendance. Throughout the Flaxmere primary schools, most if not all NiuGen leaders received prefect honours or school taonga for their final primary school year.

The Hiwa-i-te-Rangi programme offered from Year 12 focuses on career pathways and ‘realising your aspirations’.

 WOWbeing supports the physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing of ākonga and whānau/aiga.

WOWbeing supports the physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing of ākonga and whānau/aiga.

Leaders are encouraged to plan and practise their leadership out in the world. At community level, the WOWbeing mentors are noticing a shift.

Davis points out, “When we attend our Pacific community events, we notice that it’s our leaders who are stepping up to lead in those spaces too.”

Tivaini says that one of his highlights as a mentor is seeing how ready and willing WOWbeing leaders are to step into mentorship.

“There’s a cycle to it,” says Davis, with the potential “to create community and societal change.”

“Strengthening families, strengthens communities,” adds Ausage.

Read more about WOWbeing Limited at link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:40 am, 25 January 2024

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