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Time has flown by for Letitia Stock. The 32-year-old has just about completed her Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood Education) at education provider and advocacy body for the ECE sector, Te Rito Maioha.

“Three years hasn’t felt like a long time. I mean I’m doing assignment stuff at the moment and saying, ‘ugh, I can’t wait for this to be over’,” laughs Letitia, “but those three years have gone so fast and I’ve changed so much.”

She certainly has. There was a time when she wouldn’t have contemplated a career in ECE.

“Funnily enough when I was in high school I did an ECE course but I dismissed it.”

It wasn’t until after Letitia had her son that her eyes were opened to the importance of quality ECE and the opportunities to make a difference in that space.

“Before I had my child I thought, it’s just kindy, it’s just daycare – until you’re faced as a parent with trusting a teacher with the care of your child, it’s a whole different story.”

And with her son presenting with autism and a physical disability, Letitia found his ECE teachers to be a huge source of help.

“The only support I had really, who knew anything about it, were my son’s ECE teachers,” says Letitia. “They were a huge shoulder for me to lean on, saying ‘this is where you need to go, this is where you need to gain this information’.”

“I thought I really need to become another stepping stone in there for families and for children, particularly those who need a bit of extra love and support.”

“The reason I wanted to become an early childhood teacher was I wanted to become an advocate for families of diverse children with disabilities.”

Initially, she embarked on a L4 certificate at the Open Polytechnic, which Letitia said was good, but found herself wanting a more “hands-on experience”.

She found this at Te Rito Maioha, a Category 1 provider of ECE qualifications, which offers field-based programmes allowing students to study and work at the same time. Letitia embarked on their Bachelor of Teaching (ECE) programme after hearing it had a strong bi-cultural aspect. In fact, Te Rito Maioha’s bi-cultural commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi is embedded in all their programmes.

The organisation last year introduced four new programmes: two New Zealand Diplomas in Early Childhood Education – one Aperfield Montessori and the other Pasifika; a Bachelor of Education (ECE); and a Master of Education (ECE) and is currently finalising its New Zealand Diploma in Early Childhood Education (Home-based care).

“Through all the papers it was inclusive of different cultures. It seemed to be more up my alley than other institutes,” says Letitia.

Being of Māori descent, Letitia was able to indulge her passion for Te Ao Māori and her dream of being an advocate for Māori children as well as those with diverse learning needs.

“All children have diverse learning needs, but all need the bi-cultural aspect as well,” she says, “I eventually would really love to have a job where I’m working with children with diverse abilities.”

With her qualification nearly in hand, the 32-year-old reflects that it wasn’t an easy decision to “go back to school” as she knew she would have to juggle it with being a solo mum.

“They have been so accommodating,” she says of the staff at Te Rito Maioha. “There have been times when they’ve been tough and said ‘if you want this degree, you need to do this – however, bring him to class’. I brought him a few times but he was so distracted that I just had to find family to look after him. I had to make it work.”

Te Rito Maioha chief executive Kathy Wolfe says they recognize this challenge.

“A lot of our students are 25 years and older so quite a few of them have families of their own so it’s quite a big commitment for them to be working and studying at the same time.”

They are big on pastoral care at Te Rito Maioha. Kathy says they know that is can be stressful juggling work with study and family demands, so they aim to provide students with ample support and assistance.

“We also have 11 teaching bases across the country which students have access to, that allows them to study individually or in a group or access to our staff,” says Kathy.

Letitia found this structure to be very effective.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the lecturers. I’ve called them on the weekend. There have been times when I’ve rung and moaned and they’ve talked me through the process and calmed my panic.”

Te Rito Maioha is continuing to guide her. She pondered enrolling on a leadership programme, but they advised her to do her teacher registration, work as a registered teacher before considering leadership. She is grateful for their help.

“The last thing I need is bad advice.”

Kathy says Te Rito Maioha aims to maintain ongoing relationships with their graduates and support them as they continue to work in the sector. She says students really appreciate the advocacy work they carry out.

“The one thing that is really important for us is the advocacy of ECE. We absolutely agree in terms of our guiding belief that every child has the right to high quality education and care; that they have the right to enjoy the bi-cultural heritage of New Zealand; that our teachers are qualified; and that teachers continue to get professional development.”

Letitia is looking forward to opportunities for professional development in the future, but for now is focused on the next step. She’s excited, but also sorry to be finishing her studies.

“I feel sad that this is ending. I’ve built up the momentum and I don’t want to stop.”

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