It was a proud moment for the Rotorua Pacific community as they gathered at Sunset Primary School to celebrate the opening of the first Pacific early learning centre in the Bay of Plenty.
The Essence of the Pacific early learning centre, officially opened on Saturday, is the first to capture the heart of the Pacific and cater specifically for Pacific Island pre-schoolers under age 5, with a focus on a Pacific Island curriculum.
Sunset Primary School has had a 15-year association with the Tokelauan community and it had been a five-year plan to see the early childhood centre established, said principal Niels Rasmussen.
Mr Rasmussen said educators were often not aware of the cultural impact and shock that starting school could have on children.
"Recognising the differences and cultural needs, and working with these differences in our schools, is something we don't do very well," he said.
"It's important to a child's identity they are supported within their own particular groups, otherwise they can feel somewhat dislocated."
Sunset Primary School's roll was made up of about 30 per cent Pacific Island children, he said.
"A Pacific pre-school helps those who have difficulty to transition more smoothly into our primary school. It gives the children a choice and an opportunity to attend a pre-school supporting the same language and culture," he said.
The school is currently in the process of appointing a teacher.
The opening was supported by the Cook Island, Samoan, Tongan, Fijian and Tokelaun communities, as well as a strong Maori representation. It was organised by Aleki Tuilave together with fellow teachers Eruera Barlow and Aimz Cook.
Visitors were welcomed with a pohiri and a haka by Sunset Primary School students. The school had catered for 60 people but a lot more turned up, he said.
"It was really great to see the school so well-supported. It gave a great sense of inclusion and it was pleasing to see so many of our community interested," said Mr Rasmussen.