CHANGE: New Matata Public School principal Tania Raynes sits in her office at the beginning of the first marae-based learning day. Photos Troy Baker D9556-12

TANIA Raynes calls Matata home. Matata is where whanau is, where her community is, where passion and connectivity are.

All these elements have already become prevalent in the way she’s tackling her new role as principal at Matata Public School.

With a role of just 74 pupils ranging from new entrance to year eight, Tania says it is not the roll size that matteres.

What matters is the passion the staff hope to instil in the children through the changes being made to their curriculum. The school is taking a more holistic approach to education.

“It’s about changing the vision and direction that we’re heading – that’s the part that I’ve got to do baby steps with,” she says.

“The first thing that I have done in the role is organising the marae-based learning day. Part of education is about learning our local history and what better way to learn than on the marae.”

Tania has already established an extensive and intimate relationship with the community of Matata through Bluelight so when she was encouraged to apply for the principalship, no doubts could hold her back.

“I wasn’t going to apply for the position but two or three weeks into the term I just knew, and I had nothing to lose by applying.

“My teaching in immersion helped, but what will really helps me in this role is my knowledge of this community and the kids.”

A significant amount of learning will be done through hands-on activities and immersing the students in their own community.

“We are working on making a connection with where we live so that they have a better appreciation of our environment. Community-based learning, for a small town, is really important,” she says.

Students have already participated in a study of the rocky shore. Senior students have been given access to surfing programmes and all students will be given a chance to go on school camp.

According to Tania, these are all ways to promote equity among the students, as well as encourage engagement with their learning.

“We wanted to take them out on an excursion to lead them into their learning, if we give them the experiences they’ve got more buy-in.

“It’s about developing a passion for learning and so if their environment and making a connection with their community is what drives their passion to learn then that far outweighs our data collection. At the end of the day the skills that they’re developing are going to make a big difference.”

Tania has also introduced school shirts for the students to wear, with mufti black skirts or pants, another way to ensure the children feel empowered and equal in their school setting.

READY FOR LEARNING: Opposite, all students and staff of Matata Public School gather in their new uniforms before their walk to the Marae. D9556-07

“Introducing the school tops was such a big thing for me … we’re building a sense of identity, and equity, and now we’re all on an even playing field.

“A child doesn’t have to come to school and feel like they can’t keep up with their friends, there’s that sense of belonging,” she says

Learning, much like life, is influenced by our own personal experiences. Tania hopes that with the help of her staff each student can share a similar experience in their own special way, no matter their background.

“I want to empower these students’ passion for learning and to make sure kids that are in our area are choosing to come to our school, not because of outings but because of everything that we do.

“Making clear pathways for the students and keeping up with their kotahi, making sure that we don’t lose what they already have, and extending it a little bit more.

“Kids know when someone cares, and that’s the bottom line.”

Nothing without the community

PARENTS have shown no hesitation in assisting with the new changes being made at Matata Public School and principal Tania Raynes says this support has been pivotal in the new developments.

“Parents just keep putting their hands up to support. It makes us feel like we’re doing the right thing.”

Thanks to community help, the school now has a functioning pool and refurbished toilet blocks.

“The amount of work that has happened in this school since I started. The pool – that wasn’t usable, and I just verbalised that and straight away I had three dads put their hands up.

“The only thing we paid for was the paint. The handrails were donated, the timber was donated, and we had a hangi to pay for it because we had no money in the budget.

“It’s saved our school and the ministry thousands of dollars just by doing simple but effective things. You don’t have to make big massive changes, it’s just the small things you do.

“We’ve had all the gardens re-done and we’re tidying up. First impressions mean everything.”

The pride students and staff get from these changes is immense, and without the passion coming from home and whanau, a lot of these changes wouldn’t have been actioned, she says.

“These parents have the same passion that I have, they just want the best for their kids,” Tania says.