Whakatāne schools are working together to build quality relationships with whānau as they focus on improving students’ attendance and engagement.
It’s a strategy imported from neighbouring Rotorua where schools have succeeded in lifting attendance and engagement by prioritising school-whānau relationships.
Janice Simeon, across-school teacher for attendance with Rotorua Central Kāhui Ako, has been mentoring the Whakatāne Kāhui Ako, visiting each week to support staff as they address attendance issues.
“Building relationships outside of our school gates works. As teachers we build relationships with our kids at super speed so that we can teach them. That skill in a whānau environment is magic,” says Janice.
Whakatāne schools were already dealing with challenges around attendance before the pandemic struck, with data that Kāhui Ako lead and principal of Apanui School, Simon Akroyd, describes as “scary”. “We’ve got almost 400 children out of 4,500 who have attendance of less than 80 per cent, so they’re missing a day of school a week.”
When lockdown lifted, Simon drew on the financial support of the Urgent Response Fund and called Janice in to help. With Janice’s guidance, staff focus on practical ways to boost engagement with whānau. In some cases, this means liaising with nurses to support children with medical issues that may be preventing them from getting to school regularly, in others it is providing kai packages to whānau.
Deputy principal at Te Kura ō te Paroa, Ramia Honatana, says she delivers kai packages to support whānau to look after their children. “I know my families are grateful. They like the idea that the school is there to support them and that we’re mindful of their needs. We go into the homes rather than asking the whānau to come to the school.
“Once you have a really strong relationship then I find the pathway is clear. If I have a child who’s away, I know I can ring, and the parents will answer the phone because they know who it is.”
Deputy principal at Trident High School, Jay Haydon-Howard, says the new model is a shift to a more relational approach.
“In the past, a lot of whānau have felt that things were done to them, or for them, or they fall through gaps, whereas now they feel like they’re part of that process. And the more opportunities we have to work with wider community, hapū and iwi, the stronger that relational base becomes.”
Jay says approaching whānau from a place of care and whānaungatanga rather than a ‘your child hasn’t been at school’ standpoint, opens lines of communication.
“We’re at the point where whānau will contact us to say, ‘Hey, I know they’ve not been at school today. This has happened. I just wanted you to know’. And that’s a remarkable step from people who traditionally we wouldn’t have heard from.”