11 Jun 2007

Cook Islands Maori school opens in Sydney

6:10 am on 11 June 2007

The first Cook Islands Maori language school in Australia has opened its door in Sydney's southern-eastern suburbs.

The school has 30 students between three and 16 years old, 1 full-time teacher and 5 teacher helpers and its classes run Saturday mornings.

The school's principal, Tony Calanni, whose wife is a Cook Islander, says most of the local children of Cook Island descent have little knowledge of their heritage.

Mr Calanni says restoring the Cook Islands culture will strengthen the students' roots, identity and sense of belonging in multicultural Australia.

"We found that the best way to teach them the language is through song, especially the little ones, like old Cook Island traditional type of songs, the alphabet for instance, we are putting it through song and they are picking it up very, very fast."

Tony Calanni says while the school is partially funded by the Association of Illawarra Community Language Schools, most services are provided on a voluntary basis.