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Wairarapa College drawing on te ao Māori

Te Reo Māori students at Wairarapa College standing outside the school wharenui with teachers Whaea Huria Robens and Whaea Aroha Pirere. PHOTO/FLYNN NICHOLLS


Tikanga Māori is being integrated into the curriculum at Wairarapa College, not just for Māori Language Week, but throughout the year.

Huria Robens teaches a whānau class [form class] taught within te ao Māori [Māori worldview].

It is called Te Whānau o Te Tapere nui a Whātonga [The Whātonga Whanau Class] which translates as The Family of the Great Domain of Whātonga.

Whānau classes are compulsory for all students at Wairarapa College and are designed to foster a home-away-from-home environment for students. They comprise students aged 13 to 17, so classes stay together for all their five years at school.

The Whātonga Class is the one whānau class rooted in Māori knowledge and values. It has a focus on values of Manaakitanga [hospitality, generosity] and Whanautanga [kinship].

“I try to support my students in a way that stems from tikanga Māori [Māori customs],” Robens said.

The students in the class are encouraged to take Te Reo Māori as a subject and participate in the school Kapa Haka group.

Students from the Whātonga Whanau Class at Wairarapa College visiting the statue of Whātonga in Manawatū Gorge. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Whātonga was a famous navigator, explorer and tipuna [ancestor] to Rangitāne iwi in Wairarapa who encountered the vast forests on the Wairarapa of the Tararua and Ruahine ranges.

“This great domain of Whātonga has ensured the survival here over many centuries of both our local iwi: Rangitāne and later Ngāti Kahungunu. Our class members, students and teachers are therefore the modern family of this great domain,” Robens said.

Wairarapa College is finding new ways to incorporate Māori culture into their curriculum.

This year Robens taught a brand new year nine course called Te Ao Māori. The course brings a variety of Taonga Māori [treasures] into the classroom for students to examine and learn with.

“I really do love teaching our kids about the traditional treasures of the Maori world by trying to time-warp them back 250 odd years with objects like traditional kiwi feather clocks, household implements, weapons, jewellery, musical instruments so that they can get a real sense of appreciation for that time and era which was the birthplace of our beautiful language Te Reo Maori, and which we are having fun celebrating this week…and every other week of the year too.”

Aroha Pirere, the new Māori teacher at Wairarapa College was hopeful about the future of Māori at the school.

“We’ve seen the leadership at the Kura Kaupapa Māori, now it’s about bringing that level of Māori culture into state schools as well. Matt White [the school principal] is so supportive of what we’re trying to do here”.

For Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori the school has been holding different events every day.

They’ve been playing te reo waiata over the loudspeakers at lunchtime and on Thursday a coffee cart will require an order in te reo.

Four of Pirere’s Te Reo Māori students at Wairarapa College were enthusiastic about learning their language at school.

For Estelle, a year 11 student, it was about “trying to stay connected to the culture”.

Her mum used to speak the language but lost it by not having anyone to speak to.

Rose, a year 12 student said she enjoyed “being with other people who are interested”.

All the students want to keep studying to year 13.

Pirere took her students to the hīkoi through central Masterton on Monday organised by Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa.

“We’re all in the same waka,” Robens said about mainstream state schools and kura kaupapa Māori. “It’s just our paddles look a little different.”

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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