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Celebrating success, courage and hope

“It is such a pleasure to walk alongside our young parents as they navigate their journey of learning and preparing for work. Our students are brave and courageous of heart.” 

These were the words of Prue Harawira-Smith, manager of Puawānanga-Wairarapa Young Parents, at last Tuesday’s emotional end-of-year graduation and celebration of school students with children. 

Twenty-four young mums moved through Puawānanga, based at Mākoura College, in 2022 – each of whom is raising at least one child while attending school, and some working part-time. 

This year’s students had much to celebrate: Not only receiving prestigious awards and scholarships but working towards employment opportunities, learning to drive, and staying the course in the midst of covid-related restrictions and interruptions. 

Eight major awards were presented at last week’s prizegiving, including the esteemed Kia Manawanui Award – granted to students who have not only shown aptitude in their studies but have displayed resilience, determination and empathy to their peers. 

Harawira-Smith, now in her 30th year teaching in Wairarapa, said Puawānanga provides connection and safety for young parents – and its staff are committed to supporting students to become their best selves.  

Using small group and one-to-one teaching and learning, Puawānanga helps channel natural talents and interests into the achievement of qualifications.

“We are so privileged to be able to teach in this way,” Harawira-Smith said. 

She said the nurturing and creativity the young parents pour into their children is also directed into preparing for future careers – in nursing, early childhood education, retail, art, music and more. 

In their studies, students work towards three key goals: Whāia Te Tika [doing what is right], Whāia Te Pono [wisdom through learning] and Whāia Te Aroha [caring for others].

Six Whāia Awards were presented to the students who had, against the odds, shown dedication to these achieving these goals: Brianna Hislop, Te Rangiwhakawaitau Ihaia, Jordan Laing and Clarissa Wilson. 

Clarissa and Te Rangiwhakawaitau also received awards for attendance. 

For being  “courageous of heart, resolute, unwavering, and committed”, Clarissa and Jordan were jointly awarded the 2022 Kia Manawanui Award. 


Clarissa, mum to Manaia and Michael, has been with Puawānanga for two years – and, with the support of her partner, juggles motherhood, schoolwork, and a job with an after-school care programme. 

“With her work ethic and attendance record, she is a role model to other students,” Harawira-Smith said. 

Jordan, mum to Tamaiki, has been with Puawānanga for three years: Gaining NCEA Levels 1, 2 and 3 and her restricted driver’s licence.

She now works as a caregiver at Lansdowne Park’s Retirement Village and Rest Home and plans to follow in her mother’s footsteps and train as a nurse in the future.

Jordan’s mother attended the celebration on Tuesday, smiling from ear to ear.

Alongside Jordan, Brianna, Te Rangiwhakawaitau and Georgia Scott-Williams will also be leaving Puawānanga at the end of the year and embarking on work experience, self-employment, and tertiary study. 

Brianna acknowledged that moving on from Puawānanga’s safe space, where young parents can be themselves without judgement, can be challenging. 

“Leaving is a bit scary, but I’m ready,” she said. 

Also leaving this year is teacher Hilda Payne – after having spent 20 years at Puawānanga and “a lifetime of teaching maths”.

Harawira-Smith congratulated Payne on her success with “lifting the students’ maths skills by constantly encouraging them to do just a little bit of maths”, despite their “immense capacity” to distract her.

In her speech, Mākoura College principal Marion Harvey acknowledged Puawānanga as “the jewel in the College’s crown” – and thanked Harawira-Smith and her staff [Lindy, Amber, Tracey, Ken, Heather, Lisa, and Hilda] for their “enormous commitment”.  

Puawānanga is one of now 24 schools in Aotearoa for young parents. The first, He Huarahi Tamariki, was established in 1994 by then Porirua College deputy principal Susan Baragwanath – motivated after finding a 14-year-old girl giving birth in the school toilets.

He Huarahi Tamariki is supported by a trust which provides scholarships for students graduating from its own and other young parent schools

Trust board member Johnny Bell attended the Puawānanga prizegiving and became emotional as he presented graduate Reeva Williams with a scholarship towards a degree in cookery. 

In 2017, 2,309 women aged 20 years or younger gave birth, nearly four per cent of all babies born that year. Although teen birth rates declined by 50 percent in the 10 years to 2017, the role schools play in supporting young parents remains critical.

A recent Education Review Office review of young parent schools reveals “highly effective practices [and] positive outcomes”. 

Puawānanga liaises with social workers, youth services, and Whaiora’s Family Start programme to provide wrap-around support to young parents, and set them up for lifelong success.

Aroha Pirere, guest speaker at Puawānanga’s celebration, spoke about her own experience of pregnancy during her first year at university, aged 18.

Pierre completed five years at university, giving birth to her second child along the way. She is now a mother of four and assistant principal at Wairarapa College, supported by her partner Roger.

“Every time I thought about dropping out of study, I remembered my babies and was motivated to keep going,” she told the Puawānanga mums. 

“Tōku toa, he toa rangatira. Our courage is inherited. Be fearless.”

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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