Waimea College is a decile 8 secondary school in Richmond. The school has 1,600 students and about 150 staff. The majority of students are Pakeha. A small number of students identify as either Maori or Pasifika. We have welcomed many students from Asia and Europe to our school in recent years.
I teach in the Special Education Department which has 42 students, six other teachers and 15 other staff with essential roles within the department. Although our school is zoned, the Special Ed department can take students from Richmond, Nelson and the surrounding rural communities.
Our students have significant learning difficulties and therefore receive ORRS funding from the Ministry of Education. Our students come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. Some families where parents work full time; some in which economic assistance from the government is the main source of income. Students come from blended families and others whose parents are separated. They may have living arrangements where they stay a week with each parent or they may never see their father or mother.
Other students live with grandparents or in supported living accommodation. These living situations are borne out of necessity and are perhaps not the first choice of the student. Economic pressure is often a given within one of these family units. The school, including our department is cognisant of these socioeconomic pressures and is receptive to finding solutions for families under financial and psychological pressure.
The school is aware that improving our commitment to students and early interventions may help reduce pressure on students. This is clearly defined as a one way that schools can help students and families living in poverty (American Psychological Association, 2016).
The principal of Waimea College, Scott Haines, has set out to define the culture of our school in his Principal’s message on the school website:
“Our school has a culture where we do not rest until every student in our care is engaged and achieving. We believe that every student, every day, in every class deserves our very best effort and we strive to make sure that we live up to this expectation.” (Waimea College, 2017)
This leadership direction from the principal and the senior leadership team has created a professional environment in which staff have high expectations of themselves and colleagues. These expectations manifest throughout the professional environment through several clear teacher attributes:
- a genuine sense of caring and empathy for students
- high expectations of their teaching and of student learning
- provided with professional development to gain the skills to enable students to achieve
- a passion for their curriculum area
- motivated to foster a love of learning in students
- a strong sense of collegially
- come from diverse backgrounds and offer different skills, knowledge, and life-experiences for the school community
- a commitment to developing a strong set of values in students.
These teacher attributes help to make up the culture of Waimea College. Although it is the teacher culture that perhaps has the great impact on student achievement (Stoll, 1998) a school culture is made up of many cultures such as pupil, leadership, and parental cultures.
An important socio-economic issue that has arisen within my department is the payment for the annual school camp. The benefits that students obtain from a school camp are numerous although the cost can be a prohibitive factor for students attending. For many of our students, a school camp is a new and rich learning experience.
A financial solution to this problem has been found. Students with ORRS funding are entitled to respite care away from their families. This gives both the parents, who are often the full time carer for their son or daughter, and the child, time apart. This can be either for a number of hours or even over-night stays.
Making parents are aware of this option has reduced their financial stress considerably and has allowed their child to attend camp. This is one way we have endeavored to provide opportunities and experiences for all students in the department no matter their family’s socioeconomic status.
American Psychological Association (2016). Education and Socioeconomic Status. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/education.aspx
Stoll. (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Understanding-school-cultures/School-Culture