Every Friday during term 2, students at Porirua College headed into town or the great outdoors or learnt a new skill as part of the school’s Ko te Hapori programme. The trial saw students choosing a course from an alternative curriculum, which included language and cultural activities, gardening, sports, outdoor activities and learning to drive.
Ragne Maxwell became principal of the college in 2016 and says it became clear that while teachers, parents and students loved the school, students didn’t see the learning as engaging, relevant or reflecting their cultures.
Nearly 75 per cent of the school’s students are from the Pacific Islands, 23 per cent are Māori and the remainder are Pākeha or children from refugee families from Syria, Colombia and Myanmar.
In 2017 research was done to establish how to move the school forward.
“We wanted the learning to be culturally relevant for our students because they have incredible values in their cultures,” says Ragne.
“We’re finding out what culturally connected and engaging education could look like. I know there are a lot of schools in New Zealand engaged in exploring that because our curriculum invites us to create a local curriculum based on the needs of our students.”
The New Zealand Curriculum sets the direction for student learning and provides guidance for schools as they design a responsive local curriculum with rich opportunities for learning. Localising the curriculum in ways that meet the needs of all diverse learners is critical.
The importance of local curriculum design, the creation of rich opportunities to learn, and the use of engaging programmes for students support ongoing learning about the things that matter to them most.
Pride in kaitiakitanga
As part of the Ko te Hapori programme, a group of students transformed a once out-of-bounds, overgrown garden at the school.
“They planted a furrow garden in a traditional Māori way and a rongoā (medicinal) Māori garden,” says Ragne.
“They waterblasted old woodwork and stained it up and have got that area back into being a lovely area of the school, where students can now sit in the gardens and eat the food out of it.
“They have made a real-world change in our school. It was a very popular course as a result, with people wanting to change from other courses when they saw what those kids were doing and achieving.”
The cross-curricular kaitiakitanga course was taught by a science teacher, a te reo Māori teacher and a social sciences/English teacher with a focus around learning traditional Māori ways of caring for and relating to the land. A volunteer from a community afforestation group was also involved.
Ragne says that connecting Porirua College’s students with real-world experiences is important for two reasons.
“Firstly, a lot of our students lead incredibly sheltered lives and stay very much within Porirua East; they often are not that familiar with the options that are out there for them.
“The second important thing is to motivate students because if they find a dream, they’ve got something to work for and it really drives them to do the hard yards.”
A work experience course for Porirua College’s Year 12 students saw them visit and assess cafés in Wellington and use that knowledge to run a café at school during the last weeks of the term.
“Most of them had never been out in Wellington, so it was also teaching them to go into the city and learn to be independent.
“If we don’t introduce them to new environments, then they are not going to have the confidence to be in those environments and move on. They will end up having a very narrow view of what their futures can be.
“We want to develop real-world skills and pathways to the future which students see as relevant and interesting and take them towards jobs.”
A course called ‘Put the You in Uni’ for Year 12 and 13 students saw them meet former Porirua College students at Victoria University.
“They are used to very personalised relationships, of living in a world where they know people and are introduced to other people that they know – not researching on the internet for a service and then signing up,” explains Ragne.
Traditional approach helps
Ko te Hapori takes a tuakana teina (traditional Māori buddy system) approach, with many courses offered across a range of year levels. One of the objectives of this is to demystify NCEA.
“Instead of becoming intimidated by NCEA, younger students saw that they could do work alongside seniors, where they saw the seniors were doing it at a higher level with more detail,” says Ragne.