Manurewa’s Ideal Success Trust doesn’t think of its Huarahi Tika education project as a radical new idea. Instead, it’s a return to the traditional values of family involvement and whanau strength.
Huarahi Tika (the right pathway) works with schools to identify 10-year-olds who have the potential to do well, but are facing significant obstacles. It then runs a motivational programme that works closely with the students’ whanau.
This year the trust began working with seven children, but every child has a context, a home, a family, so the trust has ended up working with a total of 52 people, including the key family members of each child.
“This includes the mums, the dads, the siblings, sometimes the grandparents, depending on who has most involvement in the child’s life,” says Sam. “They each get an individual, strengths-based learning plan which is driven by the needs of the 10-year-old.”
However, although the family begins the task thinking they are only helping the 10-year-old, each begins to realise that they are benefitting too.
“Families get into a state of mind that ‘what is good for the 10-year-old is good for all of us’,’ she says. The families start to help each other, and they begin building a community.”
In the Christmas school holidays Huarahi Tika set up a week-long leadership retreat for the children in the programme. They went out to “Te Kahawai” NZ Steel Farm for a week and worked with a horse-whisperer, learning techniques that would build on natural leadership skills.
“To be a horse-whisperer, you have to learn how to read a situation, to recognise body language and know when to step away,” Sam says. “During the camp they learned that you don’t have to react to a problem, you can step back and reassess.”
By late last year the families were already seeing the benefits of Huarahi Tika, so they decided to send all but one of the 10-year-olds to the same school.
This year, finding the natural leaders at the retreat has already paid dividends. In the first days of school one of the girls began having troubles with a new class-mate. Her reaction was to return to the group and seek a solution. The two children identified as the natural leaders during the leadership retreat approached the student causing problems, pointed out that their behaviour wasn’t appropriate, and the bad behaviour stopped.
“This project is about the community supporting the community,” Sam says. “We’re already finding that the families involved are getting together for shared dinners and helping each other out with things like property maintenance.”
Another example of the skills being taught to the group came when two of the boys were caught vandalising school property last year. Huarahi Tika called all 52 members of the extended group together for a marae hui and the boys were made to see how their behaviour had effected everyone involved.
“Everyone was encouraged to speak and the children got to see who they were hurting, who they were embarrassing. It worked for the 10-year-olds – and it worked for their 15-year-old brothers and sisters too!” says Sam.
The offenders took it upon themselves, without prompting, to publicly apologise to the entire school community, at the 2009 Christmas assembly.
Each family is supported by Huarahi Tika for up to three years and, as each group becomes independent, the trust will be able to take on more.
Through 2010 there will be retreat weekends for fathers and sons, daughters and mothers. Then the groups will come together and share what they have learned.
“We want to effect change at the ground level, led by families,” says Sam. “Any change has to be sustainable - the community supporting the community.”