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Holistic education for well-being

Janine Tupaea aims to have a school buzzing with happy and engaged students. PHOTO/FILE

As Term 1 of a new school year hurtles along, education reporter TOM TAYLOR checks in with Wairarapa’s secondary school principals, who share their visions for 2021 and the lessons they learned in 2020. This week, Solway College principal Janine Tupaea talks about student well-being and the benefits of having a small school.

Tom Taylor: What is your vision for Solway College in 2021?

Janine Tupaea: To have our full school buzzing with happy and engaged girls, who epitomise the ‘Solway Way’ and who are aspirational in their pursuit of excellence. We want to empower our young women to believe that anything is possible for them and that they will thrive and lead with purpose, today and in tomorrow’s world.

TT: How do you create that “buzz” in the school?

JT: By celebrating successes and ensuring that we are having meaningful learning opportunities in and outside of our classrooms, because we value holistic education. It’s not just about what happens within the four walls of the classroom, but also all the elements of holistic education. We have an intentional focus on the physical, spiritual, intellectual, and social aspects of that, and that helps us to promote student well-being.

TT: Solway’s Wellness Programme draws on a Maori health model. Could you explain how that works?

JT: Part of our special character has always been the holistic education model. The founding principal [Marion Thompson] spoke about developing the whole person. Te Whare Tapa Wha model is the Mason Durie model of well-being. It aligns perfectly with what the holistic education philosophy already was … It has a good visual representation of the walls of a whare and how all the different elements of that [physical, spiritual, family, and mental health] are needed for the wellness of a full person.

TT: How does Solway promote physical health in particular?

JT: Part of our special character is that we have compulsory sport. We have a slot in our timetable every Tuesday afternoon where all our students from 2-3pm are engaging in sort form of physical activity, as well as taking part in team sports at Solway. The physical side of it is hugely important for well-being … We have huge engagement and participation in sport. One of the benefits of boarding is that our girls are onsite, and the boarding team can deliver them to wherever they need to be.

TT: How does having boarding students change the dynamic of a school?

JT: Solway is a family school. We can only have 45 day girls, so the majority of our [180] students board. Some schools tend to stick to their year levels, but at Solway we have a ‘school sisters’ programme, we eat in the dining room with girls in groups ranging from Year 7 to Year 13, and we really look out for that tuakana-teina relationship within our school. All our students know each other, and all our teachers know each individual student.

TT: Where do most of the boarders come from?

JT: We have quite a few students from Auckland, Waiheke Island, Nelson, quite a few from Taupo, Napier, and many from Wellington and Manawatu. They basically come from across New Zealand. In addition to that, we have international students from China, Hong Kong, and Japan.

TT: What do you think draws all these students to Solway?

JT: I think it is our special character. The fact that we are a small school is a real attraction. I have worked in schools of all sizes – before Solway I was at a school of 2000 as acting principal at Mount Roskill Grammar School in Auckland. I see the huge benefits of being in a small school. Even though in big schools we talk about the structures that we have in place to make sure that no student falls through the gaps, in a small like Solway, every one of our staff knows every one of our students: their passions, what they need support in, and their strengths. I can go home hand on heart every day knowing that we have done our very best for all our students. That, as well as our family values, and our Christian values, are things that parents from across New Zealand seek. They know it is a safe place, and that students will get the best outcome.

TT: Being a small school seems to be an advantage in many ways. How does it impact your class sizes?

JT: In our junior school, the average class size is 15 students … In the senior school, because we still offer the full range of subjects, we really commit to and invest in those small class sizes. We still offer separate chemistry, physics, and biology classes, so it’s quite common for us to have a Year 12 Physics class that might only have six students sitting in it. That’s a fantastic way of being able to provide that one-on-one support for our students.

TT: What lessons did the school learn during last year’s lockdown?

JT: The importance of staying connected to our community. We had weekly online school assemblies, and those were great because we could have all sorts of activities: competitions, students playing musical instruments. It was a way for us – because we are such a family school – to connect regularly, see everybody, and have a little bit of fun along the way. We had regular communication with our students, with their parents, and with the staff, and promoted how they could access support.

Learning basically carried on the same. We made sure that every one of our students had devices before they left the school, and we basically stuck with our normal timetable throughout the day, so our students were still doing full days of learning online. I guess what it showed us was that learning could continue but it was just so great to be back to school, because those face-to-face connections and those relationships that occur naturally within the classroom take a lot more effort over the computer.

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