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James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Maori-based school sets sights on high achievers

Toby Westrupp is the driving force behind Tai Wananga Ruakura.
Photo / Christine Cornege.
Toby Westrupp is the driving force behind Tai Wananga Ruakura. Photo / Christine Cornege.

A tikanga Maori-based secondary school with a focus on technology and innovation where students will exercise before class each day opens in Hamilton next week.

Tai Wananga Ruakura principal Toby Westrupp said the school at the Ruakura Research Centre was not elitist but aimed to produce the next generation of high achievers.

At least 90 secondary students from Huntly to Te Awamutu with a passion for science and the potential to become leaders submitted resumes to enrol.

"I don't think it's elitist but quite often our students aren't in an environment where the whole environment has high expectations for high achievement," said Mr Westrupp.

The school, a joint initiative between Te Wananga o Aotearoa and the Ministry of Education, is focusing its curriculum on discovery, technology and innovation.

The school follows a similar venture Mr Westrupp headed in Palmerston North called Tu Toa, which has had notable success in using sport to engage with its students.

Mr Westrupp said Tu Toa NCEA pass rates were among the best in the country, at 98 per cent. The school, which has a roll of about 50 students, has also produced a number of outstanding young sportspeople with notable results in netball, golf and tennis.

Mr Westrupp said Tai Wananga Ruakura came about by its proximity to the Ruakura Agricultural Research Centre and Waikato University and by looking at the Tainui 2050 Whakatipuranga plan, which has raising the capacity of people in the field of research as one of its aims.

The 60 Tai Wananga Ruakura students from Years 9 to 13 will be assessed through the Correspondence School and have individually tailored learning plans which are put together based on career aspirations, passions and interest areas. They will manage their workloads and deadlines while teachers act more as facilitators.

"If a student wants to be a dentist, our role is to clearly outline the exit strategy to identify what is required of them to get into dentistry," said Mr Westrupp. "We discuss what are the number of points they need, what are the approved subjects they need to take to help them get there."

The school consists of one open-plan room which comes with break-out areas while students also have access to tennis and squash courts, a swimming pool, a library and training gym facilities.

But it's not for the slothful or unhealthy - student schedules include an hour's exercise before breakfast and learning, which starts at 10am. The students also receive schooling in proper nutrition.

Mr Westrupp said the school, which is open to non-Maori, had a vision that would see it produce confident and growing leadership.

"Maori leadership is at risk for the short to medium term because we have so many of our teenagers who have left school without qualifications."

"Our main criteria had nothing to do with academic ability but it had a lot to do with students who actually want to be here and be a part of that kaupapa [vision] we deliver."

LEARNING CURVE

* A new secondary school with a focus on technology and innovation opens next week.

* Tai Wananga Ruakura is a joint initiative between Te Wananga o Aotearoa and the Ministry of Education. Its curriculum will focus on discovery, technology and innovation.

* The students will be assessed through the Correspondence School and have individually tailored learning plans.

* Student schedules include an hour's exercise every morning before breakfast and learning starts at 10am.

- NZ Herald

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