Titiro Whakamua – Looking Forward

Issue: Volume 97, Number 6

Posted: 5 April 2018
Reference #: 1H9iEi

Teenage mums at Titiro Whakamua Teen Parent Unit look forward to a bright future, thanks to the supportive environment that builds confidence and offers hope.

Head teacher Debbie Whiteley has been involved with the teen parent unit since 1998. She became a full-time teacher there in 2000 when the unit became fully funded by the Ministry and was pleased to stop moving locations when classes opened in 2004 in their permanent home on the grounds of Heretaunga College.

Titiro Whakamua, the first purpose-built teen parent unit in New Zealand, is a thriving education provider for teenage mums and well-supported by the community.

Students credit the supportive environment at Titiro Whakamua for showing them better options in life than staying home on benefits feeling worthless. Nineteen year old Cheyanne, whose school counsellor recommended Titiro Whakamua, says: “This place is like a family; we get so much support from the teachers and day care staff and this has really helped build my confidence.”

Motivated by her daughter’s difficult birth, Cheyanne wants to be a neonatal intensive care (NICU) nurse. She says, “The NICU nurses were awesome when I was there with my daughter. Now I want to help other babies.” Cheyanne begins the next phase of her education at Whitireia next year.

Savanagh, whose mother suggested she enrol at Titiro Whakamua, is grateful for a second chance. “Coming here fixed my life – I came here with nothing. It’s better than school, I’m more confident and I’m training to be a chef. I have NCEA Levels 1 and 2 and I’m going to Weltec to do my Level 3 certificate.”

Ebony says her doctor recommended she attend Titiro Whakamua. “I didn’t even know about it and I didn’t want to come here but then I came and I didn’t want to leave!”

Savanagh adds: “We lost friends when we became pregnant but now we have friends with the same stuff in common because we all have kids.”

They all agree they value education more now and Cheyanne says: “You get a reality check when you realise the world doesn’t revolve around you!”

Flexible learning

The flexible approach to teaching and the individualised learning programmes make it easier to do both group and one-on-one teacher-student work without overwhelming the young mums.

Flexible learning options also help manage non-attendance. For example, Debbie and her teachers use Google classroom and flipped teaching so students can keep up to date even when they can’t physically attend school. 

Students can use their mobile devices to watch videos teachers post in Google classroom. They can rewind information as often as they need to until they understand the concepts. If a child is at home sick, then this type of learning is a great alternative to class.

At the unit, mother-child bonding time is scheduled into their daily timetables.

Confidence and achievement

Past students are often invited to talk with current students about their experiences and what they’ve gone on to achieve. This shows, rather than tells, the young mums that succeeding in education and life is possible and it’s up to them to make it happen.

One of the highlights for Head Teacher Debbie Whiteley is seeing these young girls grow in confidence when they realise they are capable of succeeding. “When you see them on stage at prizegiving receiving awards and speaking confidently, you know you’ve made a difference,” she says.

Prizegiving to celebrate student achievements is an annual event. The top achieving student wears a korowai that was hand made by Titiro Whakamua staff and students. To make it extra special, the Early Childhood Centre teachers made a mini korowai so that tamariki can share in their mum’s special moment.


For teachers, Titiro Whakamua has a close relationship with Heretaunga College, sharing the same set of values and working together in areas such as professional development and moderating student work. Debbie says they are lucky to have such a great relationship with the college.

Over time teachers have seen a trend towards higher levels of anxiety and depression and higher levels of family violence. Debbie says, “Some of the students have never had a stable place to live and learning to attend school regularly is often the first thing they need to learn.” So when they are at the unit, professionals from different agencies support the young mums in all aspects of their lives.

This includes the often daunting experience of transitioning out of the unit and into tertiary study.

“We noticed it was a huge leap to go from a small supportive environment to somewhere bigger,” says Debbie. We have a youth worker who supports them through this now.”

It can be challenging being a young mum navigating the world of adults. Sixteen year old Ebony says, “I feel like I am not yet an adult, but not a kid anymore either.

“When I look at how I used to talk and how I used to act, I can’t believe it because I’ve changed so much and I’m really glad that I’ve moved on. This can be challenging because people from your past are harder to connect with and don’t understand you anymore.”

The girls agree that sometimes you have to leave things behind or make hard decisions because your focus is now your children

Top achieving student in 2017 Summer Sales holds her son Jahneiro while her daughter Adelaide proudly wears her mini korowai.

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

Posted: 10:28 am, 5 April 2018

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