Homework for parents gets results

SIMON DAY
Last updated 05:00 18/05/2014
Fiona and Amy Basha
DAVID WHITE/Fairfax NZ

REAL HOMEWORK: Fiona Basha, left, her daughter Amy, 6, and Sylvia Park primary school teacher Ariana Williams. Amy’s math skills have improved under a new programme that makes parents more involved.

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A programme designed to actively engage is lifting achievements rates and will be rolled out across New Zealand.

When Amy Basha, 6, started at Sylvia Park school in Auckland her reading and writing was well ahead of her age group but when it came to maths she was behind.

While the teachers did their part to lift Amy's performance, the real improvement came when her parents joined the Mutukaroa programme developed by the school.

Under the programme, parents are directly involved in the development of their child in the first three years and told exactly how to help at home. Since its inception, Sylvia Park has achieved incredible improvements for its mostly Maori and Pacific students.

"It is really good to know where your child stands," said Amy's mum Fiona Basha. "It is really good to see the questions they ask and at the end when you leave the meeting you know what to concentrate on at home."

Most of the students at the decile two Auckland school are not as academically developed as Amy. Ninety per cent of Sylvia Park School's year one children are at the very lowest end of where five-year-olds should be on starting school.

Before 2010 the school had reasonable success in lifting achievement rates. By the end of their first year 60 per cent of students were meeting the national standards of literacy and numeracy for their age.

But with the introduction of the Mutukaroa programme, improvement jumped significantly with 80 per cent of students reaching national standards. And of those improved students, more than half were in the top achievement band.

"Until that point we were talking a lot less than 10 per cent in the top band. Then suddenly we have about 40 per cent achieving in the top band. We had never seen that before. We were just blown away," said Sylvia Park principal, Barbara Alaalatoa.

The programme was designed by Sylvia Park School with the support of a grant from the ASB Community Trust's Maori and Pacific education initiative. It created a fulltime role dedicated to communicating between the school and parents.

Junior school teacher Arianna Williams left the classroom and instead found herself in factory smoko rooms, family lounges and cafes around the community meeting with the parents of the school's students.

On arrival in year one students have their literacy and numeracy levels assessed, and within a week Williams sits down individually with parents to discuss their child's education levels. Often those conversations are tough as many parents are told for the first time their child is already behind academically.

"Sometimes I am in there and the parent is crying because their child is below [the national standard] but it is about that ray of hope of where they are going to get to. It is so they can see the bigger picture of where their child is going to, not necessarily where they are right now," said Williams.

Williams job is to help parents understand the needs of the child, the techniques of the school and the message that assessments give.

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"We set targets around the main things the parents can work on at home with their children. We show them exactly how to use the resources that the teachers use. So they know how to do the exact same things at home, rather than having parents saying one thing and teachers saying another," said Williams.

Through individual consultation parents feel comfortable demanding more out of the school and participating actively in their child's academic life. In an intimate environment parents are comfortable asking questions about what they need to be doing to support their child.

"Sometimes at schools we tend to be a little patronising, in that we think we can't share stuff directly - that parents in low decile schools . . . won't get it. That is definitely not the case," said Alaalatoa.

After three years of consistent improvement, the Ministry of Education is supporting the extension of the programme to schools across the country with $3 million of government funding over two years.

Under the guidance of Sylvia Park school, Mutukaroa was successfully trialled in 10 schools in Auckland in 2013. The programme has been expanded into 44 schools around the country in 2014. It is planned to further expand and adapt the programme into a further 50 schools in six networks in 2015.

"It is great that we have started something that they can pick up and there is this process in place. There was no way I would have believed you five years ago if you told me this is how big it was going to be. I was just a teacher doing my job," Williams said.

- Sunday Star Times

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