By Michele Hewitson
PANGURU - Isolated Panguru in the South Hokianga has reaped an unexpected benefit from the devastating floods that swept through the township in January.
Not a single student has been entered in the Panguru Area School's behaviour report book in 10 weeks, despite the difficulties of teaching 150 students in temporary accommodation at Waipuna Marae. The school is being rebuilt, at an estimated cost of $3 million, and is due to reopen on July 12.
Co-principal John McKenzie has asked the University of Auckland's School of Education to visit the school to make an analysis of marae-based learning.
He said the benefits had been "extraordinary." There had been no confrontations between students and staff, no one caught smoking and no teacher walking out in disgust with the kids' behaviour. "I'm not saying those things happen regularly with us, but we do have discipline problems on a weekly basis normally."
He believed that the culture of the marae dominated. "The rules are adhered to by all ages on the marae."
The structure of classes might also contribute.
"Inside the whare hui there are four classes going on at once, with no formal seating arrangements."
Mr McKenzie said the arrangement meant noise levels were low, senior teachers could monitor the students' behaviour from other classes and senior students in close proximity "may be having an effect on the junior students." A formal study would be valuable "because there's been a lot of talk about the lack of success among Maori school students."
"We're seeing a whole different dynamic happening when we're teaching on the marae."
There is a downside to the arrangement. Every time there is a funeral in the community, students must pack up their school bags and settle into whichever of the area's five other marae is available.
And the flood has cost a school - and an area with 83 per cent unemployment - dearly in terms of staffing levels. Seven ancillary staff have had to be made redundant.