3 Aug 2020

New approach with struggling students pays dividends

7:52 am on 3 August 2020

A pilot programme in Napier is helping keep some of the city's most troubled children in school.

A close up shot of a little boy at school who looks distant and upset.

Photo: 123RF

It comes amid rising concern about violence in schools nationally and worries that once children are expelled they're often excluded for months, or even years.

But a new community-led initiative appears to be turning the tide.

In a classroom rented from Richmond School in Napier, up to 10 children who would otherwise have been expelled or suspended, are taking part in the Te Tupu Managed Moves pilot programme.

"The majority of our students come having had a level of trauma that might present as aggressive behaviour in the classroom or disengaged from school," said pilot co-ordinator Damien Izzard.

It was set up last year after Napier schools, government agencies and community groups decided something needed to be done about an increasing number of children being excluded from mainstream education, Te Tupu governance committee chair and Tamatea Intermediate principal Jo Smith said.

"The data is not only reflective of Napier, it's a national snapshot as well. It was showing us that students as young as Year 4 were falling out of the system ... suspensions, expulsions, that kind of thing.

"Together as a community we really had to put our heads together and think about how we can stop this from happening."

Also Te Tupu governance committee chair in Hawke's Bay

Jo Smith says data shows students as young as Year 4 are falling out of the system. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

Bringing together groups such as the district health board, police, Ministry of Social Development, education and local iwi organisations, they created a classroom for these students with a strong focus on well-being, individualised plans and wrap-around services for not only the child, but also their whānau.

This was important as the children often came from families with mental health and/ or addiction issues or had a parent in prison, said Hawke's Bay District Health child health officer John Adams, who sits on the Te Tupu governance committee.

"For some, it becomes extremely difficult to go to school when there are all those other barriers."

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John Adams says there are family barriers to some children's performance in the classroom. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

Early results impress

A special $1 million grant from Children's Minister Tracey Martin to cover three years of operations was granted last year. So far the results of the pilot have been impressive.

Twenty-one children had passed through the Te Tupu classroom, for an average of 10-12 weeks, and 19 had been placed back in mainstream education.

"We had one boy who had been disengaged from their school, they had been out of formal education for an entire year. He was 10 years old," Smith said.

After going through the programme and being given intensive wrap-around support the boy was able to rejoin school again.

"He's now on his third term in a mainstream classroom, without support, and he is back on with his education."

The key to the pilot's success was creating a calm classroom environment with tailored experiences to meet the needs of each child, said Te Tupu teacher aide Charisse Cardi.

Izzard pilot co-ordinator of Te Tupu Managed Moves pilot programme

Cardi is Te Tupu teacher aide

Damien Izzard and Charisse Cardi Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

And while there was a set curriculum their difference was in how they delivered it, she said.

"It's not just 'here's some maths' but finding a way to engage that young person and get them confident in their beliefs and let them know they can do this mahi [work]."

After leaving the programme students were continued to be supported into their first year of high school, if needed.

The pilot's successes were already attracting interest from around the country from people keen to set up similar models in their own communities, Jo Smith said.

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