Friday 23 June 2017

The Taro Patch: Pasifika success at Westlake Boys’ High School

A community focus has successfully lifted achievement and integration among Pasifika students at Westlake.


Every Thursday morning at 7.30am, there is a buzz in the air at Westlake Boys’ High School on Auckland’s North Shore as the Taro Patch members – Pasifika students from Years 9–13 – meet for the opportunity to share breakfast, their studies, and to ‘talanoa’ (talk) with each other, their tutors and teachers, as well as listen to Pasifika role models. The Taro Patch is one of several support systems Westlake has developed for meeting the needs of Pasifika learners; they also have a Pasifika dean’s role, a formal partnership with their Pasifika Parents Komiti (committee), as well as special fortnightly assemblies and the annual Pasifika celebration evening.
The school believes that these programmes and the schoolwide emphasis on excellence have contributed to high achievement rates for Pasifika students. In 2013, NCEA Level 1, 2 and 3 rates were 100 per cent, 83.3 per cent, and 80 per cent respectively – all higher than the comparable average for NCEA students nationally.
Prior to the introduction of these measures in 2009, the Level 2 pass rate for Pasifika students at Westlake was around 50 per cent; the average Level 3 pass rate was 30 per cent. In 2009, the role of the Māori and Pasifika dean was introduced, which was then split into two roles (a Māori dean and Pasifika dean) in 2010. The current Pasifika dean (and assistant headmaster) is Steve McCracken.
Aside from the need to give Pasifika students space and time to get together and be themselves in a cultural sense, the key feature of the Taro Patch initiative is that it provides an opportunity to assist students in their study. Students choose an area of their learning that they need some help with, and mentorship and tuition is arranged using either older students or teachers. The Pasifika dean is responsible for tracking the academic progress of the students throughout the year, working alongside the schoolwide Academic dean. This provides the means to identify students at risk of under-achievement before they fall behind, and a range of support systems can be instigated, including extra tuition. Families are also consulted, to keep dialogue between the school and family open.
The Pasifika Parents Komiti plays a key role in ensuring that parents are kept well informed. Monthly meetings provide a forum for a two-way conversation; parents have the opportunity to voice their hopes and concerns. Members of the senior leadership team attend these meetings, so that parents’ voices are heard by the management. The Taro Patch is one measure that came out of discussion at these monthly meetings.
The process of introducing the suite of measures that are making the difference, and of electing the measures that the school knew would be effective in their community, began some years ago. The driver was an identified need for urgent action, to improve the academic well-being of Pasifika students. First, Westlake realised that a position of responsibility must be created. The job of Māori and Pasifika dean quickly became too big for one staff member, as measures were put in place and achievement began to lift.
The focus was placed firstly on communication with the community, and Steve, alongside his Māori dean counterpart, began making real progress in getting community engagement and buy-in after just one term. In early 2011, all Pasifika parents were invited to a meeting. Though turn-out was less than hoped for, those who did attend were highly passionate about the success of Pasifika students. Taking inspiration from Mt Albert Grammar, the Komiti was formed from this nucleus of parents, who were then able to further encourage others to get involved. A highlight of 2011 was the first ever Pasifika Student Celebration evening. Then in 2012, the Taro Patch became the next phase of development of the focus on lifting Pasifika achievement. In 2013, the Pasifika Partnership Agreement between the Pasifika Parents Komiti and Westlake Boys was signed, formalising the new sense of cooperation between community and school.
Steve talks proudly of the boys’ achievements and makes a special mention of Mt. Albert Grammar School who helped Westlake research proven strategies they had trialed and used, including the Pasifika Parents Komiti.
Steve says that his capacity as Pasifika dean is a key part of his role. He cites the Pasifika Education Plan as an example. Steve’s responsibility was to look into the Plan, and work out how to incorporate the plan into Westlake Boys’ daily life, in consultation with the Komiti.
The Westlake Pasifika Parents Komiti has commitment from the board of trustees, headmaster and senior leadership team. They provide direction, advice and support to the school on all things Pasifika. Pandy Fruean, the Komiti chair, shares their vision on the Westlake Boys’ website:
“The Pasifika Parents Komiti welcomes you as a member of the Westlake ‘aiga/anau/famili’ to support Pasifika students, their families, and the school. We aim to promote the Westlake way, improve communication between the school and our Pasifika community, and assist raising Pasifika academic achievement initiatives. Our primary focus is academic achievement and how to support students and families balance this with other commitments and responsibilities such as sports, religious celebrations, leadership, school events, family and cultural events. The biggest contribution that we Pasifika parents can make is to simply get involved in our sons’ education, let’s share our stories, knowledge and unique Pacific cultures to navigate the academic pathways together.”
The school acknowledges the boys’ progress and achievement through a clear focus on success. During the fortnightly assemblies, they acknowledge students’ academic, sporting, music, and cultural successes. This culminates with the end-of-year Pasifika celebration evening to acknowledge and celebrate excellence. They have an overall ‘Pasifika Student of the Year’ who is awarded a very special Pasifika trophy donated by the Pasifika Parents Komiti. In 2013, Albert Folasa-Sua won this award for overall excellence.
“On top of that, our parents committee arranges speakers of Pasifika heritage, influential people in the community, to come in and speak to the boys. We’ve had a hip-hop artist, people from the film and television industry. It’s been really positive.”
When congratulated for Pasifika student success at Westlake thus far, Steve McCracken says that they have only just started, and that they will continue to learn and improve so that excellence is achieved for their Pasifika students and their families.
“We’re a huge school. We’ve got 2300 boys, and 97 of those identify as being Pasifika.”
Steve says that the Taro Patch and related programmes are all simple ideas that are meant to leave students in no doubt that the school is mindful of their culture.
 “Some of the outcomes we get are immeasurable really. But anecdotally – and I would stand behind this being entirely true – the boys feel more of a sense of engagement with the school. They feel as though we actually care about them, and it’s been our parents committee that has driven that. It sends the message that the school wants to support them as Pasifika people.”
However, academic results and interaction improvements provide hard evidence that the coming together of community and school, as well as the school’s focus on lifting the achievement and integration of Pasifika students at Westlake is paying dividends.
There are new Pasifika Education Plan ‘PEP in your step’ starter packs available to support schools to accelerate progress and achievement for Pasifika learners. The PEP school starter pack is available free to all primary and secondary schools.
The starter pack includes:
  • A Pasifika Education Plan tool to help you unpack and gain a better understanding of the Pasifika Education Plan 2013-2017.
  • A Pasifika Education Plan flash drive containing relevant resources and templates.
  • ‘Put some PEP in your step’ posters to help raise awareness of the Pasifika Education Plan in your school.
The starter pack is a great way to start conversations within your school and with your Pasifika communities to raise Pasifika engagement, participation and achievement.
If you wish to order a starter packplease order through Down the Back of the Chair www.thechair.co.nz or email orders@thechair.minedu.govt.nz or phone 0800 660 662.