Joan Kennett a pioneer in early Maori education
There were just four Maori children enrolled in early childhood education in Palmerston North when Joan Kennett decided she had found something to focus her life on.
Now, after 50 years of service to the sector, the 87-year-old has been recognised for her dedication to Maori children with a Queen's Service Medal.
Surprised and embarrassed were how the long-time owner and operator of both Wananga Pre School and Rewanui Private Kindergarten felt when she heard the news of the New Year honour.
"I am just very fortunate to have been able to share in the lives of so many little children," Kennett said.
"I enjoyed them all and a lot of them still keep in touch with me, even after all this time."
While doing a postgraduate course in early childhood, Kennett - a European woman who had married into Maori culture - began to care for two young Maori sisters in her own house.
She bought puzzles and books for them at jumble sales and quickly realised she wanted to help Maori families overcome some of the prejudice that prevented many children from going to pre-school at the time.
The community took time to accept her as a teacher but by 1976, when she established one of New Zealand's first bicultural pre-schools in the city, she had offers rolling in.
Project Atawhai was set up with the aim of promoting pre-school attendance and Kennett established support services to ensure children could attend and make the most of their time at Atawhai - services that included car-pooling, the provision of food, and nutrition and health lessons and networks for parents.
Kennett considers it her proudest achievement and believes it contributed to the kohanga reo movement taking off in New Zealand.
Other highlights include her advocacy for childcare workers - she was part of the team that negotiated the first union award between employers and the Early Childhood Union in 1984.
Despite her years, Mrs Kennett still assists as the nanny at Wananga Pre School.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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