Programme offers 'a flying start' for rural school students

Hauroko Valley Primary School Discovery Time

At Hauroko Valley Primary School the kids are now busy chatting away and teachers couldn't be happier.

The school is now seven weeks into a new programme to lift language skills after teachers noticed new entrants were starting school communicating in basic words without using complete sentences. 

Principal Glenn Puna said a lack of kindergartens made it more difficult for children to learn basic communication skills before entering school.

Daniel Horrell, 4 (obscured), Lucy Blair-Edie, 5, and Niza Nibin, 5, playing with puppets at Hauroko Valley Primary ...
Kavinda Herath

Daniel Horrell, 4 (obscured), Lucy Blair-Edie, 5, and Niza Nibin, 5, playing with puppets at Hauroko Valley Primary School for Discovery Time.

The closest kindergarten from the school was in Drummond, about 40 minutes away, he said.

And while Puna said the daycare centres were great, there was a lack of trained teaching staff in the area for children under five years old, he said.

When he started at the school, about two years ago, there were about seven students that needed speech language therapists, he said.

Ruby Challis, Tomas Clark and Sam Horrell, all 5, playing with a truck at Hauroko Valley Primary School for Discovery Time.
Kavinda Herath/Fairfax NZ

Ruby Challis, Tomas Clark and Sam Horrell, all 5, playing with a truck at Hauroko Valley Primary School for Discovery Time.

"If we want to raise our achievement, then we need to get our kids talking."

"If they can't talk, they can't read and write," he said.

Within the first three weeks of the programme, Discovery Time, teachers were seeing results in childrens overall language development, interaction with other students and staff, and easier transitions into school.

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The new programme works with about 25 kids to develop their oral communication and set them up for school, Puna said.

Once a week, for an hour and a half, the kids participate in what looked like play, but was really a model to get kids engaged in learning and communicating.

There were different stations for kids to go around to and play, including wood work, kinetic sand, painting, obstacles and water play, Puna said.

A teacher observes the kids, asks them questions and comments on what they are doing.

"Achievements have gone up so that's the first thing."

New entrant teacher Kirsty Erskine said the programme is in its seventh week and had seen improvements in students ability to answer questions, complete sentences and express their emotions.

"They're talking about what they're doing . . . rather than just giving a one word response," she said.

With its success already, Puna hoped to reach the national achievement average of 85 percent by mid-year, he said.

As well as raising achievement, the school was focused on making the transition to school a "smooth and easy" one, he said.

Children who took part in the programme understood the expectations and had built relationships with other students and staff, as well as their parents, before day one, he said.

Ministry of Education deputy secretary of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said western Southland was identified as a regional priority because of its isolation and geographic spread of schools.

National and regional priorities were considered to determine the allocation of ministry-funded professional learning and development (PLD), she said.

PLD is funding used to support schools and lift achievement within a Community of Learning cluster. Hauroko Valley School has been approved for PLD as part of the western Southland cluster.

There are about 50 schools in Southland that have applied for PLD, and a further allocation round will occur later this month.

To start the programme and boost the school's achievement it received a $15,000 grant from the Community Trust of Southland, Puna said.

Trust chief executive John Prendergast said the trust had a strategic plan, which was launched in 2016, with a strong focus on education, especially for children aged zero to five years.

The focus was on getting children the best start in life for their learning and development, he said.

Hauroko Valley Primary School's needs aligned with the trust's priorities, he said.

Hauroko Valley's case was special because early childhood education was limited in the area, Prendergast said.

"It's a really good initiative from the school."

The kids were set up for "a flying start" when they entered year one, he said.

Puna said the school would be collecting baseline data during the next few months to review the impact of the programme and make any necessary adaptions.

 - Stuff

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