Building Blocks to Better Education
By Janet Wilson – Principal of Marfell Community School
Our school, Marfell Community School is located in a low soci- economic community in New Plymouth. Some of our families have real poverty and financial challenges. This impacts our students’ ability to succeed – a significant proportion of our children are underachieving and their parents are not engaged in their children’s learning.
It needs to change, but this is the situation we face, there is no quick fix – change is a long term commitment. But it is an opportunity for our whanau to be inspired to want something different for themselves and their children.
As leaders in this community we have a social responsibility to help provide those opportunities – this means doing it with our whanau not to our whanau.
Finding the support and programmes that will effect change involved two principles of leadership – relationship building and change management. We started by having conversations across all parts of our community, and then building on those conversations which eventually led to us hearing about a programme called ‘Whanau Ara Mua’.
Our local Adult Community Education Chair at the time, Malcom Harding was key in facilitating our relationship with Whanau Ara Mua, amongst other things he provided funding for us to go to (South) Auckland to observe the programme. Hearing first hand stories of present and past participant’s life changing experiences was immensely powerful because it consolidated our thinking that a key catalyst to change is self-belief. Many course participants had gone onto further training – in fact one of the programme tutors we met was a former Whanau Ara Mua student.
Whanau Ara Mua is an NCEA level two qualification – a certificate in family learning and child development which includes modules from literacy to financial and career planning and family health and wellbeing.
Bringing Whanau Ara Mua back to our community – although we hit a few stumbling blocks along the way – has enabled our parents to engage in education, it has shown them a different side to coming to school. We run the course during school hours in an extra classroom for about 13 and open it up to the wider community, broadening its merit. We are shifting individual’s self-esteem, growing awareness of the value of education, getting people outside their circle and forming relationships with others – there are many spin-offs.
Change management has also been vital, ensuring the circumstances were right so we could provide opportunities for our parents to grow a positive future outlook for themselves. It was our vision that our parents engage in education and thus build a better future for their children, if we work as a community to find the solutions.