20 Sep 2017

Far North school's healthy approach pays off

4:36 pm on 20 September 2017

A school in the Far North has taken the health of whānau and community into their own hands.

University or secondary school students study in a classroom.

Waiharara School students have been focusing on whānau. Photo: 123RF

Waiharara School, north of Kaitaia, is working with the community to better the well being of their students and of their town.

It has 17 pupils.

Shontel, 13, attends the school and said health was not just about physical well being, it was also about fulfilling spiritual needs and understanding yourself.

"Lately we've been learning about ourselves, our iwi and a lot about connecting back to our whānau."

The students at Waiharara School held meetings at the local marae with parents and the wider community to talk about health and what they can do together to improve it.

This whānau-involved initiative is at the centre of the Health Promoting Schools (HPS) approach developed and funded by the Ministry of Health.

Currently, more than 1500 schools in New Zealand have used HPS to improve school and community health.

Since the beginning of the year students at Waiharara School have cleaned beaches and travelled to Queenstown, Gisborne and Waitangi.

Shontel said involving their whānau in thinking about health improved parental engagement with life at school.

"Our family come to the school and we teach them heaps of stuff and they tell us about our history. They are more involved."

Whānau engagement at the school has lifted to 90 percent from only 10 percent less than a year ago.

At-risk students are also showing signs of accelerated learning since adopting the approach.

Waiharara School principal Toni O'Neill said recently students went to an iwi hīkoi to talk about how to improve health.

"Our students started interviewing whānau there and got lots of really wise advice and whānau action really started there because they saw how excited students were about their health.

"We've used that advice to build our curriculum and our charter - healthy environment, healthy people is the motto."

She said students who previously struggled to engage in class dramatically improved their behaviour.

"We've seen a lot more of what we call agency, and students making decisions about how they will learn and being more invested in their learning."

The Ministry of Health says 60 percent of attendance improvements were explained by the approach and student reading performance in HPS schools is 29 percent higher on average than non-HPS schools.

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