Sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the award recognises Rae’s role as a “champion for Pasifika learners” through her leadership of the Pasifika Early Literacy Project (PELP) and the Pasifika Teacher Aide Project (PTAP). PELP was piloted in Auckland schools in 2014 and has continued to support teachers of Pasifika learners, in using the Ministry of Education’s dual language books to enable bilingual and biliteracy development. PTAP was piloted in 2005, and to date, has reached 365 schools and more than 1,000 teacher aides, enabling them to tap into and utilise the rich language and cultural resources of Pacific children and families.

At the faculty Rae works closely with practising teachers in primary and secondary schools who are studying the Graduate Diploma in Teaching English in Schools to Speakers of Other Languages (TESSOL), and with those focused on postgraduate research in bilingualism, biliteracy and culturally sustaining pedagogies.

“It’s about supporting teachers to see that Māori and Pacific children need to be able to be successful as who they are. It’s such rewarding work because we’ve found through PELP, PTAP and the GradDipTESSOL, that teachers who are not Pacific themselves can learn to create space for Pacific children to use their language resources to support their learning.

“My mother came to New Zealand from Savusavu, Fiji, and on her first day of school, the teacher wanted her to write an essay. She had no idea what an essay was and for a long time, felt overwhelmed and inadequate at school. She came in as a strong speaker of Fijian but she wasn’t allowed to use her language in the classroom.

“And so for me what gives me one of the greatest joys is changing classroom spaces for Pacific children and young people so that they have opportunity to become bilingual and biliterate, and where they see their own languages, cultures and identities as being central to their success at school.”

During Friday’s awards ceremonies, the Pacific Service Excellence Award went to the Ministry of Education for the development of the Pasifika Dual Language books, which the University of Auckland, led by Rae, has been instrumental in developing and designing. It began in 2014 as the Pasifika New Entrant Project and involved children’s books in Samoan-English. In 2017 the project expanded to include five Pacific languages and the first three years of school.

“I want to acknowledge the Lord for everything that I’ve been able to do. I’d like to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for validating Pasifika Education here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Finally, I’d like to thank all my colleagues and mentors who have taught me so much over the years.

“I acknowledge my mum who came here in 1946 on the Matua as a 12-year-old. Much of what I do is a testimony to her life and what she has sown into me, and also my father who taught me what it means to be Māori. I also thank my Samoan husband Milo and my five children; everything we do, we do together.”

Read more about Pasifika dual language books.

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