Dawn breaks for unit
There is a true sense of belonging at the Kowhai Intermediate School Samoan bilingual unit.
It has finally been officially named after a five-year struggle to increase student numbers and keep it afloat.
Gafoa le Ata, The Breaking of Dawn, was created in 2006 by parents Feeonaa Wall and Joanne Okesene who were keen for their children and others to continue a Samoan bilingual education into intermediate years.
"There was a Samoan bilingual unit at Richmond Road School but that only ran for years 1 to 6," Mrs Wall says.
"We've found the best practice for bilingual education is eight years. There wasn't enough room at Richmond Road so we thought, `Where can we go? What can we do'?"
Mrs Wall says having a child who takes up an eight-year bilingual education increases their chances of becoming fully bilingual.
"What we wanted to establish was a pathway for Samoan language continuance in the central-west Auckland area because at year 7 and 8 there was nothing," she says.
"We started in 2006 by canvassing parents and networking. We chose this school because it already had a history of bilingual education and because it has a Maori immersion and bilingual unit."
But the mothers found the road to creating such a class difficult.
"Kowhai was happy to have it but we had to prove they didn't have to fund it. We had to get a certain number of children – over 20 for fulltime," Mrs Wall says.
"So we established a part-time class in 2009 with six students and found funding for a teacher and ran that for two years."
The class grew to 11 students the following year and in 2011 it became fulltime with 27 children.
Now the future is bright for Gafoa le Ata which has been able to establish a new parent group because of the growth in attendance.
"It's the end of the beginning and I look forward to what the future brings," Mrs Wall says.
"What we were aiming for, because we put together a philosophy, is to grow and to have a year 7 and 8 class around 2016.
"I look forward to having more opportunities. These things don't happen easily but all the hard work is about our children, that's who we do it for."
Last week the school celebrated its long-awaited achievement in true Samoan-style on the 50th anniversary of Samoan Independence Day.
Second-year Gafoa le Ata student Flo-jo Adams, 12, represented her class as the lead performer, or taupou, at the celebrations.
"I chose to be in the class because I thought it would be a good experience to learn about my background," she says. "My mum is Samoan and my dad is Palagi.
"I've learned to dance and speak Samoan and play games – before I could only speak a little bit."
Flo-jo says she is proud of her classroom's new name and being able to perform at the ceremony was an amazing experience for her.
"It tells us that we're named now, before we were just called a classroom," she says.
"Performing makes me proud and happy because there are a lot of girls who are good at dancing and out of them they picked me."
School principal Paul Douglas says in 1962 Samoa became a nation that could raise its head and do its own thing.
"This is also about independence, all of our students are being shown independence," he says.
"We want all of them to be independent people who choose when they need help but are in control of their life. It's very fitting that we are naming this class on this particular day."