The glass cabinet in the office of Te Wharekura o Mauao is full of trophies.

Some are large wooden carvings and others are in the shape of rugby balls, acknowledging student achievement in a variety of different fields.

The school's principal, Heywood Kuka, has been in the role since January but has seen the school grow since it opened in 2010. The school was located in Poike and there were 35 students, now it is situated in Bethlehem with a role of 240 students.

"It's pretty daunting," Kuka says. "It shows that people are trusting us and this is a viable schooling option for our kids."

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Te Wharekura o Mauao is a full immersion te reo Māori school for students from Year 7-13.

Academic, cultural and sporting options are taught while students are immersed in tikanga Māori and language. Revitalisation of the language is at the core of the school's values.

Kuka says the style of schooling recognises students' prior knowledge of language and customs.

"It's a place where Māori kids can be Māori," he says.

The day starts at Te Wharekura o Mauao with a karakia (prayer) and the day is broken into two blocks.

In the first block, students learn their core subjects such as Māori, English and other NCEA subjects.

The second half of the day students focus on their "passion" learning centring around sport, culture, or experiences.

Kuka says the flexiblity of learning and facilitating students to wherever their "end goal" is is something he is proud of.

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Small class sizes of up to 20 students adds to the inclusive feel of the school.

"We're a tight-knit community, just like a whanau," Kuka says.

He has big goals for the growing school where he wants to see Te Wharekura o Mauao as the best immersion te reo Māori school.

"I think of myself as the keeper of the vision," he says.

Kuka says the most important lesson he wants his students to learn is the value of themselves.

"They should be proud to be Māori and know they do have a special place in this world."


What do you like most about your school?

"Our reo Maori and that we are very family orientated, we're all like a whanau here. Another thing is our kapa haka, we're really into that at our school and we're doing pretty good with it."
Josie Yeager

"They look at what we want to do now and what we want to do after school, so we're ready for when we leave."
Maru Samuels

"You're not going to find a school like this in Tauranga Moana. It's a good school for Maori in general. For rugby, it stands out. Even though we're a small school we've got big hearts."
Poroaki McDonald

"The variety of sports to choose from and all the beautiful teachers at the school."
Elisabeth-Aroha Watene