Immersion school fills gap

A new Maori immersion school in Richmond, formally opened at a ceremony this morning, is the first in the top of the South Island, but the 76th in the country.

This morning marked the opening of Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Tuia te Matangi, which will offer a broad curriculum almost entirely taught in te reo.

It is the only one north of Christchurch in the South Island.

The kura, built at a cost of $4 million, will have an initial roll of 54 pupils, who will be taught by four teachers.

Its facilities comprise administration, multi-purpose space, a library, and science, food and materials technology and general teaching spaces.

In addition, the kura will be a pilot school for a Maori ICT learning framework.

The school is located next to residential special school Salisbury School, which is waiting to hear whether it will be closed by the Ministry of Education as part of a move to a new model for special education.

Kura board of trustees member Dayveen Stephens said the kura came off the back of the kohanga reo movement, started about 27 years ago, and its opening was a sign of a shift in community attitudes in recent years.

The driving force was a revitalisation of te reo in the top of the south, she said. "It's our time."

English will be taught as a subject, but due to a rahui, or restriction, that will be the only time the language is spoken on the premises – a rule that included visitors, she said.

"Total immersion means 100 per cent from everybody that enters the kura."

Board member Janis de Thierry said she enrolled her children because she wanted them to have educational chances within their culture.

"With te reo comes the culture. We're talking about a resurgence."

Four of her six children would be starting when the kura opened, although one daughter was sad that she was too old to enrol.

The school was a way of giving them an opportunity to learn within their culture, she said.

"Our children step outside our front door and English is everywhere."

It would be huge on a number of levels, she said.

"Culturally, these are one of those cultural milestones ... for the community. It's a community milestone because it's not just Maori that have been driving it."

Principal Merita Waitoa-Paki said the kura was only the first step in revitalising the language.

"It's all about home. We can't rely on kura kaupapa to provide te reo Maori – it has to come from the home. We have to build communities of te reo Maori speakers.

"We're not the answer. We're not going to fix it."

Associate Education Minister Pita Sharples said he was excited about the new kura.

Kohanga teo were good, but once pupils hit the kura level, they "flew" with the language, he said.

"It's pretty hard for the parents to keep up.

"It changes people's lifestyle, their opinions. They get noticed in the community. People start to get a new respect for Maori language."

Education and performance manager Phil Sharpin said the new school not only filled a gap for parents who wanted total immersion education for their children. It also filled a gap in the national network of kura.

There were a number of schools in the Nelson region, including Victory Primary School, Nelson Central School and Parklands School, that provided bilingual classes for their pupils, but this was the first school that went further, he said.

"Parents haven't had that total immersion to the extent that the kura will provide from year 1 through to year 13."

Ministry of Education governance facilitator Michael Deaker worked with the kura's board since 2010, helping it work through the various issues involved in setting up a school.

He said he was thrilled to be involved, and the process was relatively easy because the team was so hard-working.

The past 12 months had been all about finding the right staff, but the group managed to use its own networks to find the appropriate people, he said.

"It was exciting for me to be involved because I knew the iwi based in Nelson and Motueka have been working so hard for 10 years or more to develop some kind of total immersion schooling for all their kids."

In helping the board get started, he had visited a number of kura around the country, and had seen the exciting things that were possible for kids in immersion education, he said.

Kura kaupapa were schools fully engaged with their community.

"They look not just at the children that come there but the whole family structure behind them.

"They become part of the process or part of the programme and part of the curriculum."

In the Richmond kura, a whanau room is set aside for family members to spend time in during school time.

"We tend to see mainstream schools across New Zealand as being their own entity, and parents are welcome in to talk about their children's progress, or problems with their children, but in kura it's a different approach. The whole whanau is engaged.

"I have contributed very little to their achievement. It's their kura."