9 Jun 2017

Diversity underpins school's Maori and Pasifika achievement

12:02 pm on 9 June 2017

Embracing cultural diversity has been instrumental in lifting achievement rates for Maori and Pasifika students at a New Zealand school.

2017 Avondale College Samoan group

2017 Avondale College Samoan group Photo: Avondale College

Avondale College is one of New Zealand's most ethnically diverse schools, where Maori and Pasifika students make up nearly 40 percent of the school roll.

With students from more than 30 ethnicities, the make-up of Avondale's roll is a close reflection of Auckland's increasingly diverse ethnic population.

Its principal Brent Lewis said that while cultural differences may have separated students back in his generation, the diversity has instead provided a platform for students to engage and embrace each other's differences.

"I think students are advantaged [here] by the mix," he said.

"Modern New Zealand is diverse and the youngsters who are put in a safe, positive, exciting environment where those things are celebrated are going to be the most personally powerful people in New Zealand's future."

The decile 4 school of nearly 3000 students boasts record results across the national NCEA system.

Furthermore, its students have placed first in the World Cambridge International Exams over the last 5 years and claimed six of the top-ten placings at the World Microsoft Championships.

Avondale also entered the highest number of cultural groups in this year's ASB Secondary School's Polynesian Festival.

"I think seeing all the cultural groups in the school, like the Samoan group...that really helps us learn about that culture and I think it's good for us," said Korean student Ju-an Kim who shared his experience of the festival.

A cultural group which entered 2016's ASB Secondary School’s Polynesian Festival.

A cultural group which entered 2016's ASB Secondary School’s Polynesian Festival. Photo: Avondale College

"I've been doing Polyfest for like the past 2 years and I think it's really cool when you go on the Polyfest day and you go see all the cultures perform," added Chinese student Venessa Ho.

Another student, Bianca Crall, echoed the sentiment.

"Being a part of like all of the culture and like all of the different diversity and you get exposed to so many different things and what it does it like teaches you a little tiny bit about every single culture all around the world."

Avondale College student Tinei Tagaloa-Leniu, Taupou for the school’s Samoan group in 2017.

Avondale College student Tinei Tagaloa-Leniu, Taupou for the school’s Samoan group in 2017. Photo: Avondale College

According to Mr Lewis, embracing students' culture was a key to success.

"It's our belief that if we honour the youngsters' culture and background, they in turn having been respected and supported and embraced, will in turn embrace the important things that we're passionate about for them."

Samoan Headboy Ezra Kapeteni agreed and explained how school sports had also opened opportunites for Pasifika students to share and embrace their culture.

"For our First XV Rugby team we have a middle Eastern kid that just came over, so he decided to join our rugby team." he explained.

"Most of our boys are Pacific Islanders so after every game, or during trainings, we are usually singing some Samoan songs so I think it was new for him to meet a new culture and learn a new language."

The School has been praised by the Ministry of Education on its strategic approach to promoting success for Maori and Pacific students which has resulted in boosted achievement rates.

Mr Lewis said a unique programme called 'The Student Voice Project', where parents and leaders from around the Maori and Pasifika community were invited to engage and hear from students, was just one of the tools the school has used to do that.

"One of the interesting pieces of feedback we got from the Pasifika students and their staff training session, was "You've got three lessons to establish a relationship with me."

Avondale College students.

Avondale College students. Photo: RNZ / Indira Stewart

"Now that was a challenging statement, but it's been taken to heart."

While Maori and Pacific students' achievement rates have increased, so have rates for Middle Eastern, Latin American and African students.

The school has one of the highest percentages of migrant and international students and Mr Lewis said the diversity has been valuable in pulling down racial barriers and stigmas between students.

"It's very difficult to create those intercultural tensions, and if you look around our school you'll see a Muslim girl with a Pasifika girl with a European girl with an Asian girl and they'll be chattering away very happily," he said.

"And they're just young women, and that's it."

Avondale's principal said the strength of their school has been built on the back of its growing ethnic diversity.