Enjoying their new classroom are [back row] Charlotte Grafton, left, Georgia Newell, Ziggy Hill, principal Darren Kerr and Isaac Shaw. Front row: Joshua Fairbrother, left, Ollie Halewood and Makaylah Tocker. PHOTO/ELISA VORSTER

ELISA VORSTER
elisa.vorster@age.co.nz

A small rural school is adapting its curriculum to help its pupils prepare for the future and has a healthy growing school roll to show for it.

Whareama school principal Darren Kerr said the school, near Riversdale, was in the midst of an entire curriculum overhaul to better equip its pupils for “real life”.

“The parents are still keen on focusing on literacy and numeracy but also want soft skills for employment,” he said.

“It means big changes – we’ve had to make teachers step outside of their comfort zones and change our programmes to develop the whole child.”

He said as a teaching principal, it’s also meant he’s had to “walk the talk” himself.

Kerr said research showed there were other practical skills pupils needed to be successful in the workplace, and overall, parents had agreed.

These included being able to self-manage, problem-solve, be creative, be forward-thinkers and develop sound communication skills.

“Employers want to see people who can work in a team, manage themselves and can problem-solve.”

He said part of the transition into the new curriculum was letting the pupils design their own projects for how they wanted to capitalise on the school’s unused land.

This has seen them working together with teachers and parents to build a mountain bike track, an in-ground trampoline and a treehouse.

“They’re doing real life things, as much like working in a business as it should be.

“We let them muck it up too, and let them fail – if you fail, you’re learning.”

The new curriculum coincides with the substantial roll growth the school has had over the past six years — from 28 pupils to 50 at present.

Kerr said part of the growth was the result of families who had moved outside the region, moved back to Masterton, but chose to send their children back to Whareama School.

“Traditionally, we’ve had really good success from before I was here, and we’ve continued to grow that.”

There had also been a population growth in neighbouring Riversdale, with the school now having 10 pupils from there as opposed to previously only having one.

However, the roll growth meant the Year 1-3 classroom had been catering for 27 pupils, with what Kerr called a “huge range of learning skills”.

This prompted the school to fund an extra teacher out of its own pocket and transform a room used for Wednesday morning playgroup into a classroom.

“The board of trustees decided to invest heavily in education here at a huge cost,” Kerr said.

“We’re proud to have small classrooms.”

He said the Education Ministry would help fund the additional teacher once its roll hits 51 – something it expected in the coming weeks.

The new teacher, Jane Tiley, had come to the school after teaching secondary school physical education at St Matthew’s Collegiate.

Tiley said the change to primary classroom teaching was a new challenge. She was excited to be part of a “future-focused” school.

“It’s always important to grow and have goals, and the school has certainly got that,” she said.

Kerr said it had been about nine years since the school last had three classrooms, and he was happy it was fortunate enough to now have four teaching staff, including the principal, and one teacher aide.