Student creates a closer link

16:00, Jan 20 2014
BUILDING BRIDGES: Deborah Hohneck’s thesis aims to address the low rates of Maori student engagement at James Cook High School.

Deborah Hohneck was shocked at what she learned while digging into the pasts of Maori elders for her thesis on education.

The academic - and the deputy principal at James Cook High School - heard countless stories of bad school experiences from kuia and kaumatua at Manurewa Marae.

Many had been punished for speaking te reo, were made to adopt English mannerisms and behaviour and were groomed for lower-paying jobs than their Pakeha classmates.

Mrs Hohneck says she had always been aware of that history from a Pakeha perspective but had never truly understood its effects until she undertook her research.

"It was stunning how many people shared similar experiences - people not much older than me."

Her masters thesis Building Bridges: Seeking Collaboration with a Maori Community, seeks to address the low rates of Maori student engagement at her school.


The Waikato University student spent two years visiting the marae and talking to community members to find out what could be changed.

"It's an issue that is challenging to schools all round the country - getting genuine engagement with Maori communities," she says.

"What schools have done traditionally is say: ‘We're having a parent evening and we expect you to come' or ‘We're having a prizegiving and we expect you to come'.

" That way isn't working - we have to find more responsive ways."

One of the ideas she received was to send text messages to caregivers instead of letters which could be interpreted as intimidating or too formal.

Another was to meet them at their homes instead of on school grounds, which held bad memories for many parents and grandparents.

The school has taken some of the ideas on board and is looking to work differently in the future, Mrs Hohneck says.

It has also formed stronger links with the marae and it's hoped those can continue.

They include getting students involved with the marae's mangrove removal project and taking responsibility for other issues in the community.

Manukau Courier