Dream scheme to help poorer students

By Stuart Dye

Saeli Alatasi loves maths-based computer games because he can beat most of his friends. A few years ago, the 11-year-old couldn't do maths puzzles and could barely read.

He is one of 53 students reaping the rewards of the I Have a Dream programme.

"My reading is better and I like maths because I'm good at it," said Saeli, who believes good tutoring has got him to where he is.

Under the programme, former IT company owner Scott Gilmour "adopted" a class of Mt Roskill schoolchildren - most of them immigrants from Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Fiji and Ethiopia.

Three years on and the Wesley Primary School students have moved on to intermediate age and to 11 different schools.

So Mr Gilmour, who built a successful business, has built an education centre he hopes can prove even more of a success.

The purpose-built "Dreamer Centre" is part of Mr Gilmour's 15-year plan to help the children reach university.

On the grounds of Wesley Intermediate School, the centre will provide a central base for his students for the next seven years.

Statistically, less than three of the group of 53 students would be expected to attend university.

"Having watched these kids develop over the last three years I am confident that through the I Have a Dream model we can challenge this statistic," Mr Gilmour said.

The programme is based on an American idea and is the first to be set up outside the United States.

The children receive academic mentoring and tutoring, and also out-of-school activities.

Mr Gilmour picks up the tab for all the costs, and he will also pay the fees and expenses for those who go on to higher education.

The Dreamer Centre houses a computer lab, library, and dedicated areas for homework, tutoring and "chilling out".

It was opened by softball and netball star Rita Fatialofa-Patolo, a former Wesley Intermediate pupil.

She said students needed the encouragement to "dream big dreams" that would break them out of the constraints of living in a low-income community.

New Zealand has the second highest level of relative educational inequality in the OECD, with students' results profoundly affected by both socio-economic status and ethnicity.

In a study of 25 Auckland high schools, some high decile schools produced almost 80 A or B bursaries from 100 students who started year nine while some low decile schools produced none.

The I Have a Dream project has contracted The Education Group to conduct long-term research on the programme's effectiveness and results.

Their most recent report has shown higher attendance levels and greater confidence among the students in the programme.

There have also been academic improvements in maths and reading.

Wesley Intermediate principal Nigel Davis the students were scoring higher marks academically than those coming through in previous years.

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