Where I’m from, where I’m going

Issue: Volume 100, Number 1

Posted: 4 February 2021
Reference #: 1HAG_Q

Whanganui City College, which began life as a technical college, now has a proud focus on developing students who know who they are, where they come from, and where they’re going.

Principal Peter Kaua has led a culturally responsive approach at Whanganui City College.

Whanganui City College Principal Peter Kaua (Ngāti Porou) bursts with pride and aroha for the students, of whom 80 percent identify as Māori, and what they achieve.

When Education Gazette visited the school, he had just had a visit from a former student.

“Students come in all the time to say, ‘Hello, I’m doing this, I’m doing that’. And they’re doing very well – they’ve got good jobs - a future.

“At the beginning of the year a former student came in – he was ex-Military Services Academy. He’s been at the meat works for a few years, has bought his own house and told me he’s going into the Army. A few of us from school went up to his march-out at Waiouru and discovered that he was top cadet of the 100 or so that were on the course – we are so proud,” says Peter.

The Military Services Academy is one jewel in the 300-student school’s crown, says Peter. Another is Te Ara Wairua, an alternative education programme, the result of a partnership between the school and Te Puna Matauranga o Whanganui, the education arm of the local iwi.

Not good enough

But it wasn’t always like that. Peter, who has taught for more than 40 years, became principal at the college in 2008. Efforts had been made to raise achievement, and in 2014, the school was congratulating itself on the best NCEA results they had ever had: 35 percent pass rate at Level 1, 45 percent at Level 2 and 20 percent at Level 3. Peter realised this was wrong.

“Thinking it’s just because we have tough kids is deficit thinking. That year, every teacher including myself got a whānau class: 350 kids, 35 staff, that’s 10 kids to mentor each.

“Zoom forward to 2015, the results were 63 percent pass rate at Level 1, 60 percent pass rate at Level 2 and we don’t have many that do or pass Level 3, but there was a dramatic improvement. So, we’re up there now.”

Culturally responsive

Peter had been involved in the Kotahitanga(external link) programme at his previous school, Western Heights High School in Rotorua. He agrees with the culturally responsive pedagogy that finding strategies that work for Māori learners, works for every student.

Whanganui City College was also a pilot school in the initiative, which supports teachers to improve Māori students’ learning and achievement by creating a culturally responsive context. But when a new approach was suggested by the Ministry of Education in 2014, Whanganui iwi stepped in.

“They said, ‘Nah, nah, we need to be part of this and we need to have a say in what happens in the secondary school’. We started on this journey and from then on, everything changed,” says Peter.

A partnership between Te Puna Matauranga o Whanganui and Cognition Education began. Te Kākahu is a locally developed professional learning approach for secondary schools in the Whanganui rohe, which works with school leaders and teachers on professional leadership and schooling practices, as well as on curriculum design.

Place-based learning

Dr Mike Paki (Ngāti Apa) is iwi representative for Te Puna Matauranga o Whanganui and works with early childhood to secondary education providers in the Whanganui Kāhui Ako.

His PhD focuses on indigenous education and he has researched why many Māori have not been successful in the education system. He concluded that they didn’t see themselves in schools and the system.

Through a programme, Ngā Iere o te Whenua - the Voices of the Land, teachers are taken to places of significance to iwi such as the marked spot in Moutoa Gardens where Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed.

“I took the science teacher and the deputy principal at City College on a four-day waka journey from the source of the river on the mountain to the Whanganui River mouth. After that he completely changed his approach to the science programme that he was delivering. He rewrote it to incorporate some of the things he had seen and done on the river – it really changed his outlook.

“It’s changed a lot of the attitudes of some of the whānau and the kids, because all of a sudden someone is talking to them about something that is of some importance to them. They sometimes become the tutor, which changes the dynamic and builds whanaungatanga between them because the teacher can learn from the student,” he says.

Learning from Māori culture

From Year 9, akonga at Whanganui City College learn about their local stories beginning with a school camp at Mangatepopo on Mount Tongariro, from where Whanganui River flows.

Head girls in 2020, Kyla (Te-Atihaunui-a Paparangi) and Ani (Ngāti Porou) have experienced the school’s learning journey firsthand.

“I think even while we’ve been at school, we’ve seen quite a lot of curriculum-based changes and I think that City is really headed into more self-motivated learning,” says Ani.

“They were even trialing new stuff when we were juniors, like connecting us to the river and educating us about our Māori history but also incorporating that in science, geography: learning how our ancestors did science and incorporating that into the new world. It’s kind of seeing how everything doesn’t have to be the colonial way of learning – it’s like our ancestors figured things out,” she explains.

“Before starting at City College, I didn’t really know myself and where I came from – my whakapapa and my pepeha,” says Kyla.

“But coming here, I know more about tikanga and kawa (Māori protocol) and the basic te reo. That’s given me a lot more confidence in myself and knowing that I want to go further in learning about my culture,” she says.

Success story

Year 10 student, Quinn (Ngāti Maniapoto), is just one of the success stories of the education partnership between the school and Te Puna Matauranga.

In 2019, when he was in Year 9, he was excluded from school.

“I was at the school for about four months and then got into fights, ditching classes, being disrespectful to teachers. It just wasn’t working for me. I was a little shit,” he admits.

“A few months later, Mr Kaua told my brother that there was a spot for me in Te Ara Wairua. I ended up over there. Everything has changed. When I was over here, none of the teachers were helping me in classes. Over there, we get all the help. I was clever in primary school but when I came here everything just changed. It’s like family/whānau. We have each other’s backs, don’t talk down to one another,” says Quinn.

By the end of Year 10, Quinn had achieved NCEA Levels 1 and 2 in English, mathematics and te reo Māori – he is the first student in the school’s history to achieve this. He hopes to go into farming when he leaves school.

“Being in this programme has helped me know where I’m from and who I am,” he says.

Peter says the guiding light of the programme is Matua Werahiko Craven. “He IS the man. He’s been with us for 11 years, he’s a master carver, he’s from the iwi, he’s got such a nice, lovely nature and the boys just don’t want to upset him. He cares for them, he’s the glue.

“We’ve had a huge success with kids. Quinn isn’t the only one. You go over to the room and there’s the wall of fame and there are all these kids that have NCEA Level 1 and 2,” says Peter.

Military Services Academy

Whanganui City College’s Military Services Academy is ‘one of the best things I have ever done’ says Peter. The Academy, which includes NCEA credits, life skills and community service, is for Year 12 and 13 students and has been in the school for the past 11 years.

Former pupil, parent and chairman of the Board of Trustees at the time, Craig Smith, says the school was offered the opportunity by All Black Buck Shelford, an old school mate of Peter’s, and grabbed it ‘for all it was worth’.

“People may think the military academy is for the kids who are more troublesome and difficult – it’s not that way at all. It’s an opportunity for those people who want to go into the services, whether it’s Police, Fire, Army, any of those usual services.

“It’s not all about grabbing the more challenging students but it says: this is the way you dress, that’s what your shoes are like, that’s your uniform, you take pride in it, you iron it, you get it clean ... you get here on that time, go at that time and while you are here, this is what we do,” explains Craig.

“It’s been hell of a successful because sometimes if you turn around the more challenging students, they will turn their cohorts around, who may not necessarily be in the Academy,” says Craig.

“At the march-out I always cry because I see their parents can see they have some potential and I know where some of them have come from. It sets them up and a lot of them get work easily,” says Peter.

Prefect Bryleigh graduated from the Academy at the end of 2020 and hopes to join officer training in the Army.

“I feel the Services Academy has helped me out quite a lot due to me going in there not knowing what I want to do and me coming out wanting to go in the Army or the Navy. Being in this course helped me identify what it is I wanted to do. I definitely wouldn’t have thought I was a leader when I was younger,” she says.

Racism and inequities

Racism and inequities in society and the education system will continue to dog Māori students, says Peter, who says he was a haututū (mischief) at school.

“I just went to school to play sports. When I got to secondary school, the teachers realised that was my hook. I had good teachers at Western Heights High School in Rotorua – and then I went back there as the deputy principal!

“They wouldn’t let me do sport unless I did my work. Then they said to me, ‘You’ve got brains, use the bloody things’,” he remembers.

Since 1911, the school’s motto has been ‘All is overcome by working’. Peter says that the colonial values are still upheld but intermeshed with new ways. Today the school’s WERO (challenge) stands for: Whanaungatanga, Empathy and Resilience combining in Oranga, which is a healthy future.

“If education only comes from one lens and if it doesn’t work for you, then you have students who fail. But now the lens has shifted. If my kids – Pākehā and Māori – can walk in both worlds when they leave here, they are unique,” he says. 

Through a different lens 

Peter Kaua is Whanganui City College’s first Māori principal. When he arrived in 2008, the school was Euro-centric and quite traditional, he says. The curriculum has been turned inside out with a focus on engagement with whānau, place-based learning and a partnership with local iwi, who want to raise the achievement of the school’s Māori students.  

“The demographic here is about 80 percent Maori. I'm proud of what has happened to me, but I want to give them a bit more openness in a world that is all over the place at the moment,” he says. 

The school offers multi-level curriculum and contextualized learning so it’s relevant and applicable. 

“I’m a stickler for the old school but it’s not English or maths now; it’s literacy and numeracy. I’ve said to my staff, ‘Let’s forget about ‘I’m an English teacher etc’. I’ve got to write letters, I don’t need to be an English teacher to do that; I’ve got to pay bills, I don’t need to be a maths teacher to do that – we’re on that journey.” 

Biggest Kāhui Ako 

With Whanganui’s secondary schools working with Te Puna Matauranga Whanganui on Te Kākahu since 2014, relationships between the schools and iwi are strong. But it wasn’t until March 2020, that the region’s secondary schools, primary schools and Early Childhood Centres all became Aotearoa’s largest Kāhui Ako. 

“We didn’t conform to the Ministry of Education model but our work with the iwi in the secondary space brought us all together. 

“We have three achievement challenges: Wai ora – effective transition from ECE to the end of secondary school; Whanau ora – engagement between whānau, teacher, schools, pupils; and Māori achievement, especially for boys,” says Peter. 

Craig Smith welcomes the Kāhui ako. “When I was on the Board of Trustees many years ago, I tried to get the schools to work collaboratively in terms of making sure that every student in town had the same ability to achieve educational outcomes as much as the next person – no matter what school you went to. 

“Schools were quite siloed and trying to protect their own patch and not lose teachers, but we were saying that every child going into education should have the same access to resources and be able to get the best outcomes,” says Craig. 

Turning things around 

Peter’s goal is to even the playing field for all of his students and graduates but he says that some of the tools of inequity, such as streaming, are still used in secondary schools. 

“Māori are in the position they were put in – what you see happening today is only a product of what happened in the past,” he says. 

Dr Mike Paki, who advises Whanganui Schools and provides PLD to educators in the rohe, left school at 13. It wasn’t until he was in his 40s that his tamariki questioned why they should stay at school, that he began his own education journey. 

He says there has been a huge change in Māori achievement in Whanganui in the past five years. Key factors at Whanganui City College include real partnerships between iwi, schools and the Ministry of Education, engaging whānau and providing relevant PLD to educators. 

“The biggest change was whānau engagement. Parents used to go around 10 or 15 teachers to talk about their child. Most of us got sick of that and didn’t turn up.  

“Once they started having whānau hui, teachers knew every parent and the phone call from the teacher wasn’t the one we all grew up with – you're in trouble now. Including the parents rather than just reporting to them once or twice a year changed attitudes amongst whānau – not just Māori whānau. The parents started getting involved and they can also offer certain things – experiences, open some doors for kids – it is part of being a whānau again,” explains Mike. 

Te Puna Matāuranga does a cultural audit of each school and decides what they want their children to know when they graduate from school. 

“As the iwi we sit down and say what is it we want our kids to know when they graduate from school, so we’re creating some profiles and then we’ve gone and looked at the curriculum. Some of the stuff we can integrate and some of it can be stand alone. NCEA allows us to turn the curriculum towards a local way of being, seeing and knowing. We have opportunities now to integrate rather than tack on,” he says. 

Looking back, looking forward 

Whanganui City College today is quite a different place from when Craig Smith attended Wanganui Boys’ College in the 1970s. He has worked as a legal executive in Whanganui since leaving school. His two sons went on to attend the school in the 1990s and Craig was chair of the Board of Trustees from 1999 to 2009. 

“There was a huge focus in my days at school on sport. Like any school the difference between 1972 when I was a third former and 2020 is chalk and cheese. Structurally a lot of the school is the same but that’s only bricks and mortar.  

“The culture has changed and that happens as a result of what’s happening in the principal’s office and spreads around the rest of the school. When I first came here, there was still the traditional viewpoint of what education was all about.  

“These days, it’s great to have the academic side, but that’s only part of the bigger picture. It’s also about making a well-rounded person, who when they have left have got more empathy for others, is educated and all together a more rounded person,” says Craig. 

“My wife is a dental therapist and she’s always delighted to come here because the kids are so respectful – they talk to you, look you in the eye, shake your hand,” he adds. 

Well-rounded curriculum 

On the brink of leaving school at the end of 2020, Year 13 students Ani, Kyla and Bryleigh have seen the school culture change considerably on their watch. 

“I think there’s a lot more focus today in finding pride in our ancestors. Lots of stuff has been lost in translation in the past, but I have learnt about what the truth was. I really love history and it was really interesting to unlearn the ways I had learnt at Intermediate and start questioning perspectives in history,” says Ani. 

“They really tried pushing students to learn what they are interested in so that they enjoy learning and therefore are more likely to succeed. Rather than specific subjects, the subjects revolved around one idea. There was one around how you handle money and teaching you using real-life situations, like taxes and what would happen when you leave home and what you need to learn,” says Kyla. 

“This year there were opportunities to have study periods as well, so you could pick up a class that may have been in a different line. You can’t take that class but you can take the internals from that class and still do something you like,” she explains. 

Ani says changes have been made at the Junior levels which have also benefitted her cohort. 

“Like I got Level 3 really early into this year as I could tailor it for myself and how I could get it done as quickly and possible. I don’t have any schoolwork left to do and I decided not to do exams this year because I don’t need them and now I’m running dance classes and doing paintings for people. 

“I think my years at City College have really helped me with that. I have a lot of self-confidence and self-motivation. I think a lot of that came alongside the new programme we are doing where it’s really encouraged that you find out what you like to do and motivate yourself. 

Bryleigh says she has become more self-assured after two years in the Military Services Academy.   

“It helps a lot of kids mentally – it has helped me to be stronger and believe in myself. I think it’s a confidence booster,” she says. 

Who I am and where I’m going 

All three young women have big dreams, with a common theme of wanting to help people. 

Ani is heading to Victoria University to study law, although she doesn’t want to be a lawyer, but to use that knowledge to help in the community. She is also a talented artist. 

“My parents were like ‘just be an artist, be a painter’, but we took a class about Māori leadership and that really gave me an insight into how Māori are treated in New Zealand and I think I have a special position where I have both Māori and Pākehā whakapapa, so I have two very different perspectives on the world. 

“I think there are so many things we can do to fix things, especially for young Māori – you look at statistics for young men and they are the largest prison population. We’ve had a lot of time to reflect this year and I have been reflecting a lot on how that can change,” says Ani. 

Becoming a sports psychologist is the dream for Kyla.  

“Getting paid to travel with a group of people, helping people and doing something in sports is pretty ideal,” she laughs. 

“My dad is Māori: we were very disconnected from his culture, but are becoming more connected to it. This year we learnt about Māori leadership and the different perspectives and styles of leadership. I want to become a sports psychologist, but I want to focus on what I can learn from Māori culture and possibly working for a New Zealand Māori team,” says Kyla. 

Bryleigh hopes to stay in the Army as an officer and then switch over into the Navy to experience the difference. And after that? “I was thinking about becoming a social worker – there's a lot about mental health where I feel that I could help youth with it. You could go in doing one thing but come out doing a different thing in the Army. I’m open to trying a lot of things,” she says. 

Once a technical college  

Whanganui City College began life as Wanganui Technical College in 1911. It was an amalgamation of the Wanganui Technical School of Design (est. 1892) and Victoria Avenue District High School. 

Technical schools first opened in the 1880s and students paid fees to attend classes. Run by local education boards, they provided trades training in the evening and were aimed at people who entered the workforce straight from primary school.  

The first technical school was the Wellington School of Design, which opened in 1886. Many others followed and by 1904, 13,700 students were enrolled at technical classes in around 50 towns and cities. The Department of Education oversaw technical schools and controlled the way funds were spent. 

In 1903 the Liberal government introduced technical scholarships that covered the cost of four to five years of technical education. The intention was to encourage pupils to stay at secondary school, but secondary schools concentrated more on academic subjects and were unwilling to offer technical classes. 

An article in Wellington’s Evening Post in December 1937 noted that keen demand for young tradesmen saw only six out of 60 senior boys from Wanganui Technical College’s engineering course complete the year, with many taking out apprenticeship contracts before the end of the year. 

In the early 1960s, technical high schools in the main centres were separated into secondary schools and tertiary-level technical institutes or polytechnics.  

In 1964, the school became Wanganui Boys’ High School. Peter says there was an influx of Māori boys at that time, although old boy, Craig Smith who attended in the 1970s remembers: “I don’t think there was any thought that there was a cultural diversity – kids just went to where they went to. There wasn’t any zoning. If they wanted to go to co-ed, they went to Wanganui High School, boys to boys’ college and girls to girls’ college.” 

In 1994, with Tomorrow’s Schools, the school became co-ed and Wanganui/Whanganui City College. The school now has about 80 percent Māori students. 

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

Posted: 1:13 pm, 4 February 2021

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