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Creative initiatives celebrated

The “Poi Pepe” team, working on poi for kohanga reo children. PHOTOS/ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL

Erin Kavanagh-Hall

Kapa haka costumes, a wheelchair for a family dog, a school orchard, a cookbook extolling the virtues of vegetables, and a ball to celebrate the elders of Wairarapa are just some of the projects keeping Makoura College pupils occupied each Friday.

The college’s timetable underwent a significant change this year, with the introduction of Arotahi – one day every week dedicated to project-based learning and pupil-led enterprises.

As part of the Arotahi programme, pupils work, either in groups or individually, on a range of initiatives: meeting cultural, health and environmental needs within their own whanau, the school, or the community as a whole.

And the pupils have let their imaginations and ambition run wild – spending hours designing prototypes for te reo-themed toys, drawing up building plans for brand new decks, trialing recipes to share with low income families, and obtaining quotes for catering large events.

Projects have ranged in scale and complexity from gift bags for hospital patients, to a cultural street festival, to a two-bedroom coastal bach to be sold by auction.

PBL, which is steadily gaining traction in New Zealand schools, allows children to work on projects over an extended period of time – which engages them in solving real-world issues, and developing a product or idea to share with the community.

This helps prepare young people “for the challenges of the world beyond school” and develop vital skills, such as teamwork, problem solving, adaptability and effective communication, Makoura principal Paul Green said.

Green said Arotahi is not only helping pupils to become more independent learners, but is enabling them to reach out to and cement themselves within the wider Wairarapa community in a positive way.

“We want our young people to be more engaged with both their learning and with their surroundings.

“PBL gives them an opportunity to focus on the things that inspire them and they are most passionate about, and gives them more of a voice in their community.”

Embracing culture

Each Friday, Makoura pupils divide into different hubs – culture, performance, lifestyle, environment and citizenship, to name a few – to work on their projects, with staff members alongside to guide and offer support.

Some of the more creative enterprises have come out of the cultural hub: a newly-designed uniform for Makoura’s kapa haka team, a line of laser-printed Maori jewellery, a range of brightly-patterned flash cards to help children learn te reo Maori, and three sets of 60 poi, made from donated materials, for kohanga reo in Masterton.

Other pupils have put their musical and rhythmic abilities to work, writing a song for broadcast to celebrate Makoura’s Pasifika pupils, running Samoan sasa and slap dance classes for pre-schoolers, and composing a new Makoura College haka.

One of the more unique projects is a kaumatua ball – a fully-catered black tie event hosted by the college as a “big thank you” to the kaumatua and kuia of Wairarapa for “passing down all their wisdom and knowledge”.

Year 12 pupils Ruby Wilton and Darleen Rodgers have been hard at work raising funds to cover the costs of food, decorations and entertainment, having organised a mufti-day and several raffles.

“It’s a big responsibility for us, and it’s been stressful at times,” Darleen said.

“But it’s taken us out of our comfort zone, and pushed us to do more.”

“It’ll all be worth it on the night,” Ruby said.

Hub supervisor and Maori studies teacher Shari Taylor said she was inspired by the pupils embracing their culture and using Maoritanga to inform their projects.

“They didn’t need any prompting – it’s clear they are totally connected with their culture,” Taylor said.

“It’s been a blessing to watch their journey.”

Improving the school

While many of the pupils’ projects are focused on the community, other groups have made it a priority to take their school to the next level, including making improvements to the campus site.

Such projects include a deck built around the trees at the front of the college, doubling as a bus stop; an onsite grove of fruit trees; and climbing grape vines outside the classrooms.

Stan Dickson, one of the pupils working on the deck project, said the idea came to him “right away” one afternoon after school.

“If the deck works out, then students won’t have to sit on the grass while waiting for the bus,” he said.

Feeding peers

Year 11 pupil Billie Rae Rimene is similarly looking out for his fellow pupils’ comfort – hoping the fruit trees and grapes cultivated by his team will provide a “free feed” for teens low on energy.

“We do get people coming to school without lunch – and sometimes I’ve forgotten to bring food from home when I’ve been in a rush,” Billie Rae said.

“We also want to have hanging fruit baskets outside the classrooms, so people can pop out and get a snack during class time.”

Billie Rae and his crew are organising car washes to fund the various seedlings, and are seeking advice from “gardening professionals” on keeping the orchard maintained.

Levi Aplin, Year 9, with his latest recipe for his vegetable cookbook — cheese and veggie scones.

Also keeping the youngsters well fed is Year 9 pupil Levi Aplin, who is spending his Fridays compiling a vegetable cookbook to share with the community – with the pupils serving as taste testers.

Though his schoolmates were initially skeptical, they were won over, and now queue up to try Levi’s vegetables bites, scones and pizzas.

“Levi loves vegetables, probably more than chocolate,” Brenda Eunson, Levi’s teacher aide, said.

“At first, some of the kids told us they were allergic to vegetables – but now they’ve actually tried what he makes, they can’t say no.

“Levi wants people to appreciate vegetables – and pass on some of the cooking tips he’s learned, like buying smart and using what’s in season.”

Mobility aid

Similarly winning the hearts of pupils and staff is Zoe Lintern, who has almost single-handedly designed a mobility aid for her dog, Oscar, who doesn’t have full use of his back.

After much research, she is fashioning Oscar’s wheelchair from lightweight plastic piping and velcro strips, which she made on her own sewing machine.

Teacher Joanne Paku said Zoe’s was the first Arotahi proposal to be accepted.

A presentation of the student projects for the school and wider community will take place on Friday May 17 from 1pm until 2.30pm.

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