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Navigating COVID with kindness

Tumuaki / principal Kiri Turketo thinks she has a future New Zealand Prime Minister at her school.

She is lucky enough to bear witness to her kids’ “little nuggets of brilliance on a daily basis”.

The Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate school tumuaki refers to her students as “our kids” because she knows they’re the future leaders and caretakers of our country and community.

“Sometimes my own kids say, ‘you love them more than you love us’,” she says, and laughs.

In what has been an incredibly difficult year for the community, Kiri is proud of her resilient kids.

The school (with a roll of 80% Pasifika and 19% Māori) now faces a new challenge, with noho rāhui/lockdown 2.0 having a greater emotional and spiritual impact on students and their whānau.

In light of the second noho rāhui in Tāmaki Makaurau, the school is among those in South Auckland reporting lower than normal attendance rates. RNZ reported enrolments were down 50 per cent in some South Auckland schools in the first days of alert level 2.

“Lockdown 2.0 has really exacerbated the apprehension and the anxiety.”

Kiri says that the first lockdown was new and exciting for students – and was far enough away from exams that students weren’t fazed by it.

“This time round, it’s hit in August and it really shook some of our kids.”

Students were worried about missing out on time spent in class and falling behind.

“Not only that, families who were affected by the first lockdown – did they have time to get back on their feet? You will see from the latest statistics that they didn’t.”

While some students had not returned for various emotional or spiritual reasons, financial pressures had also forced some students to leave the school in favour of taking on employment to support whānau.

“And I am seeing some families having to prioritise what is important to them – and sometimes that is ‘I’ve got a new job, or I’ve used up all my sick leave’, so therefore they may not have the means or financial support to look after the younger siblings or drop them at kindy or kohanga, so it falls to the students.”

For some students, the pressure of juggling home and school life has become too much.

The school is doing everything it can to support its students right now – in a physical, spiritual and emotional sense.

A “student guardian” visits whānau and acts as liaison between them and the school, where historical negative experiences of schooling can stop parents or caregivers from seeking support.

In the classroom, health and safety measures include strict social distancing, having good cleaners who clean the school every day, cleaning equipment for teachers and hand sanitiser in every class.

“That’s the superfluous stuff that you can see and what we’ve got sitting behind that is the emotional and spiritual side.”

Kiri says Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate follows the Te Whare Tapa Whā model of hauora and health.

“We know students won’t learn if they don’t feel good about themselves, good about being at school and good about going home. You could put them in a bath of sanitiser but if students don’t feel good about who they are and don’t have a sense of belonging, they are not going to learn.”

Staff are currently working around the clock and have found social media to be a key tool in helping to support students outside school hours, with school nurses using Instagram to triage students and doing home visits.

Empowerment is everything when it comes to getting students back to school, because “education affords you choice”, says Kiri.

She asks that people check their biases regarding race and ethnicity and leave them at the door. She also wants people to be kind, and not confuse it for vulnerability.

“Kindness has to be a strength that surpasses any emotion because it takes a lot to be kind no matter how down you are, no matter how beaten up you are.”

“At the end of the day, we all want to feel loved.”

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Photo credit: Oliver Crawford

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