Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

InZone gives poor families opportunity at top school

Project likely to grow despite parents having to settle for shared guardianship

Auckland Grammar School. Photo / NZPA
Auckland Grammar School. Photo / NZPA

The parents of a group of Maori and Pasifika students have signed over shared guardianship of their sons so they can live in zone for Auckland Grammar.

Families spend more than $1 million to buy property near the prestigious state secondary school, and being in zone can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to a sale price.

But a foundation is offering the poorest families a way around Mt Eden's booming property market, by housing more than 50 boys in accommodation near the school.

The InZone Education Foundation has completed its third year. The academic performance of its students has silenced the early naysayers, including those who labelled it a recruitment tool for the 1st XV.

There are now ambitious expansion plans, including establishing a girls' hostel in zone for Epsom Girls Grammar School, and another for tertiary students.

InZone was established after Terrance Wallace, a youth pastor and community worker who was raised in Chicago, visited New Zealand in 2010. The 36-year-old said he came up with the idea after seeing a news item about the underachievement of Maori and Pasifika school kids.

At that point he wasn't aware that zoning laws meant he would need to become a shared guardian of the students. "Initially parents struggled with that, and there were some parents who decided, no, I can't do that. Now it's quite different, they know me, and see the results from the other boys."

By the end of 2011, 18 of the first intake of 28 boys had moved up streams, with one student jumping seven levels in 10 weeks, a record for the school.

In the project's second year its accommodation fell through and it made a last-minute move into its current base in the Owens Rd hostel, owned by Ngati Whatua and now leased to InZone rent-free for 30 years.

In six weeks more than 200 volunteers, many professional trades-people, helped get the dilapidated buildings up to scratch and signed off by a shocked Ministry of Education inspector.

Mr Wallace spends much of his time trying to raise money for the project.

It costs about $10,000 a year to support each student. Parents are asked to contribute some fees, but many are unable to pay.

While Mr Wallace is a Christian, he said many of the boys' families were not. He and an education panel looked for those who were underachieving at their current school, but had desire and potential.

The transition to life at the hostel and at Auckland Grammar could be tough, but the vast majority of the boys had thrived, Mr Wallace said.

"Initially they are blown away by some of the differences between some of their communities and here. But they absolutely merge right in. It has a lot to do with the way they are received amongst the neighbours and people at school."

In March, Mr Wallace will be a speaker at the Auckland leg of the Festival of Education, a showcase and celebration of innovation and success in education in New Zealand.

He said the InZone model could be replicated in other areas, and not just ones with high decile or top academic schools.

"The type of support we provide here at InZone, kids could benefit anywhere ... you have more and more kids every year that are suffering because of the lack of support around them."

- NZ Herald

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