Dr Rachel Williamson received the 2018 NEXT Woman of the Year for Education award for leading the Summer Learning Journey, an innovative online programme designed to keep students ‘match fit’ with their literacy learning over the long summer holidays.
“This award is as much about the team as it is about me. I am so fortunate to be surrounded and supported by amazing people on our ongoing journey to encourage the next generation of New Zealander to achieve, to learn, and to realise their full potential throughout the entire year,” says Dr Williamson, who is based at the Faculty of Education and Social Work.
The Summer Learning Journey started as a small, pilot study into helping students in Years 4 to 8 beat the loss of learning that can be a side effect of the long school holidays, particularly in low decile schools. In some cases, the loss of literacy learning can be as much as 12 months in a single six-week break from school.
Dr Williamson and her colleagues came up with the idea of encouraging students to blog as a means of maintaining their learning over the break. She co-designed a free programme in partnership with the Manaiakalani organisation (a cluster of 12 schools in Auckland’s eastern suburbs), enlisted help from a team of educators to blog with the students and began trials in selected schools in 2015.
The results were dramatic with student participants maintaining significantly more literacy ‘muscle’ than their non-blogging peers. The programme is now heading into its fourth year and is being used by hundreds of students in 52 schools from Kaikohe to Greymouth.