The early days of creating an educational hub for the Belfast community

Issue: Volume 103, Number 6

Posted: 15 May 2024
Reference #: 1HAgX_

Pūtahi-Belfast School in Canterbury is located on two different sites, and they are taking education beyond the classroom, into the playing fields, and out into the community.

Left and right: Pūtahi-Belfast School's garden plots are a hit with students who enjoy growing vegetables.

Pūtahi-Belfast School's garden plots are a hit with students who enjoy growing vegetables.

Pūtahi-Belfast School shares two campuses across two sites. There’s the junior campus for Years 1–4, and just across Main North Road, along a 10-minute pathway, is the senior campus for Years 5–8.

The school is located in Belfast, a suburb in Ōtautahi Christchurch that has undergone considerable growth during the past decade.

Principal Sue Elley says, “Belfast is almost like a small town on the edge of Christchurch rather than a suburb.”

When initially faced with the idea of having a new school for the community, about seven years ago, Sue says they thought this could cut the community in half between an old and new Belfast.

It was also becoming clear that the needs of their younger ākonga were changing and different to senior students. 

“We’ve noticed more work needs to go into helping young tamariki get ready for formal and academic learning, especially in the post-earthquake environment,” says Sue. Pūtahi-Belfast School's garden plots are a hit with students who enjoy growing vegetables.

As a result, the Pūtahi-Belfast staff are making changes that better suit the junior school, specifically changing timetables to accommodate play-based learning. The two-campus model facilitates this approach.

The school has drawn on Dr Kathleen Liberty’s findings to reduce students’ stress. To support their learnings, classrooms are set up to provide a calm environment.

For example, younger ākonga learn in classrooms that are styled more traditionally. In contrast, the senior classrooms are more collaborative and reflect potential workplace environments.

“The two campuses mean we can focus more on the individual student’s educational needs,” says Sue.

Both campuses also have playgrounds specifically for the age of the ākonga. This includes a football field, an indoor basketball court, and adventure playground on the senior campus. On the junior campus loose parts play equipment has been purchased.

Beyond the classroom

An important part of having two campuses is making sure the school identity remains united. It’s the school’s curriculum, based on the local community, that helps to do this.

For example, surrounded by the rich ecosystems of the Groynes, the Waimakariri River and a local stream that runs across the school’s edge, a key part of the curriculum is looking at these waterways.

Sue says another local aspect is what they call ‘enterprise.’ With the school sitting next to an industrial area, it is intended that senior ākonga build relationships with neighbouring businesses and firms. 

“Belfast has a rich history, it’s a very old suburb and there’s lots of things it’s known for which will take our ākonga out of the classrooms and into our local community to get to know people and the way things are done,” she says.

Pītau-Allenvale and Pūtahi-Belfast held a joint Crazy Hair Day in support of Shave for a Cure.In many ways, Sue says their local curriculum demonstrates how learning goes outside of the classroom, and into the community.

Examples include a connection with a local retirement home, visits each year from ‘Orchards in Schools’, who teach ākonga pruning (a reflection of the commercial apple fields in Belfast) and newly created plots on the senior campus for ākonga to grow vegetables.

The relationship goes both ways, with the school also looking to bring the community into their environment.

 Pītau-Allenvale and Pūtahi-Belfast held a joint Crazy Hair Day in support of Shave for a Cure

Pītau-Allenvale and Pūtahi-Belfast held a joint Crazy Hair Day in support of Shave for a Cure

“Our aspirations to be a hub within the community will take time to progress. We are planning to offer our school halls out to the community once we have worked out things like insurance cover, cleaning arrangements and hire costs. We have had some enquiries from local churches about accessing our facilities.”

Shared site

As well as having two campuses across two sites, the school also shares the senior campus with co-located Pītau-Allenvale Base School. Although sharing grounds, the two schools each have their own identities with their own principal and school board.

“If you looked at the site itself from above, you’d think it was one school because of the layout, but it’s been cleverly designed.”

Pītau-Allenvale offers educational programmes for five to 21-year-olds with learning support needs. The shared site means diversity and inclusion is championed.

Year 6 ākonga Sam says it’s very interesting to have a different school right next to them. His parents say they hope it will give the Belfast children more awareness of others in the community. 

Pītau-Allenvale principal Ian Poulter says that with both schools on the same site it has naturally taken time to get sorted, but as the two schools become more settled, they are increasingly discovering, exploring, and planning ways to support each other to their mutual benefit.

“It is still early days, however the skills of the staff of both schools are beginning to be shared. Pītau-Allenvale staff have been able to share strategies and approaches that benefit neurodiverse students.

“Some of our students will become involved in Pūtahi Belfast’s kapa haka, and some of our students are certainly enjoying joining in with celebration events,” explains Ian.

Activities are also planned for the ākonga to collaborate.

“It means both ākonga and the community can see diversity. We’re creating this identity within the Belfast community of doing something a bit unique. We think of ourselves as an educational hub within the area,” says Sue.  

Canterbury schools share common vision

Canterbury schools are cheering diversity through shared sites and satellite schools. They are seeing benefits, not only from sharing facilities like libraries and halls but through kaiako and ākonga collaboration. Staff, ākonga and their whānau can come together across schools for common causes and celebrations. 

Waitaha School is a specialist school in Rolleston with a base facility at Te Uru Tarata-Lemonwood Grove School and three satellites at Horoeka Haemata-Rolleston College, West Rolleston School Te Kura O Te Uru Kōwhai and Knights Stream School-Mingimingi Hautoa.

Waitaha Base and Te Uru Tarata-Lemonwood Grove schools share kapa haka practice, have a joint playground used by all ākonga and they’ve held joint art exhibitions and market days.

Two secondary schools, Avonside Girls’ High and Shirley Boys’ High schools, while operating independently at their purpose-built site, share a campus with a Ferndale Te Ahu satellite.

Senior students on their specially designed playground.

Senior students on their specially designed playground.

Wairarapa Cobham Intermediate and Tuia Burnside Primary share a campus with Pītau-Allenvale Satellite Pītau Uru. Pītau-Allenvale also has a satellite Pītau-Raki at Ashgrove School in Rangiora, and has three classrooms at the former Kendal School site, Pītau-Rapa.

Ōtautahi also has a Transition Education Centre; Tētēkura. Tētēkura is a collaborative project between Ferndale Te Ahu School and Pītau-Allenvale Specialist Schools. This combined transition hub is the first of its kind in Aotearoa New Zealand for students aged 15–21.

There are plans to site Ferndale Te Ahu Base School adjacent to Parewea Banks Avenue Primary in the coming years, further demonstrating Canterbury’s future of strong community ties.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:47 pm, 15 May 2024

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