An inspiring school story

The Herald reports:

It started with a murder. The year was 2006 and the dead man was Sita Selupe’s cousin. Just 17, a “sweet boy”, he was beaten to death by a group of thugs with a baseball bat, one of a spate of terrible attacks to sweep Otara that year. The killer was found to be part of a youth gang, his victim a harmless bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time.

After the funeral, the family gathered, and prayed, and sat around the table for a talk. “It made us think,” Mrs Selupe says. “How are our boys tracking? Could this happen again to one of our other boys? And we said we had better do something.”

A primary school teacher with Tongan and Niuean heritage, Mrs Selupe had already been running classes for her sons and a few nephews and nieces in her garage for around a year. Each Saturday morning the kids would come for a couple of hours, and Mrs Selupe taught them using an “inquiry” method – teaching through applied learning – picked up at her previous job.

“It was only meant to be four of them,” Mrs Selupe says. “But then the rest of the whanau found out.”

After her cousin’s death, the family decided the homeschool was one way they could help Pasifika children in the area, and placed a renewed focus on education. The numbers of students increased. The school was renamed Rise UP, as a message of hope. And Mrs Selupe became a woman on a mission.

Out of something awful, came something good.

Almost ten years on, Mrs Selupe still has the same goal. However after a decade’s hard work, she now runs her own government-funded school with around 85 primary-aged kids.

One of the country’s first partnership schools, Rise Up last year posted some encouraging results, and is on track to do so again.

Yes an evil charter school which Labour and Greens have vowed to close down if elected, and the PPTA boycotts anyone who teaches there. They see Mrs Selupe as the enemy.

The kids, particularly boys, thrive on experience-based learning, Mrs Selupe says. Earlier this year, the Year 3 and 4 students spent a term researching and designing a playground. Eventually their designs went off to a planner, and now the playground has been built in the front of the buildings they share with a church.

What a great idea.

The school’s results seem to show that it works. Last year Rise UP’s children reached national standards in reading, writing and maths at a rate of at least 20 percentage points above the average of the other children in the Mangere and Otahuhu areas. They were also well above the national average, and within their contract obligations.

Again, this is what Labour and Greens are vowing to stop.

However Mrs Selupe doesn’t believe the school is undermining the wider system. She likes to think it is another way to keep kids local, rather than travelling to get a better start. “In my day, every day, there were buses taking kids to school in the city. I wonder if our school provides another chance, if we can stop those buses. That would be good.”

Indeed it would.

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