New entrant teacher at Taumarunui Primary School Sharon Shaw is doing her part — often at her own cost — to help young children in need be ready for school.
Sharon started LEAP — Learning Enhancement Activity Programme — for 4-year-olds to prepare them for the transition to 'big school' in the low decile area.
This idea came out of an educational trip to Australia where she saw the benefits of a transitioning to school programme where some centres had packs made up to help with items that other students may take for granted.
"Many of my students come to school without having had any pre-school experience and some can't recognise their name or have never held a crayon, pen, or pencil," she said.
She began to make starter packs for them that contained crayons, paper, scissors, glue and books to help those who had little or no access to any of these at home.
Initially, all the items were bought by Sharon, but she now looks for support wherever she can find it.
"The packs have grown over the years to include donations from Duffy Books in Homes, the Ministry (of Education), Colgate, KidsCan and any other donations I can find."
"I still purchase some things like crayons, paper, pens from the $2 shop but I don't mind as the benefits and support I am helping give to parents far outweigh the costs to me personally."
Parents are also given a helping hand, with resources that help them to know what they can do to help their little ones in the home.
The packs now also contain a toothbrush and toothpaste from Colgate and books from Duffy Books in Homes.
Sharon is also involved with other programmes being run in the school, like Fonterra Milk in schools, Sanitarium Breakfast in Schools and KidsCan lunches.
She says that she has also been running a breakfast club for the past 16 years which not only helps feed the children but teaches respect and responsibility.
"It was a shock to see how students didn't know how to sit and eat, how they ate, and how they didn't know how to clean up after themselves and do dishes etc. "They were rude to the volunteers and had no manners.
"We had strict rules. They had to sit down, they have to be polite and use their manners and eat in an acceptable manner and then help clean up."
Now tied in to the LEAP project is plastics company Sistema which has donated more than 8000 lunch boxes and drink bottles to new entrants at low decile schools across New Zealand.
Sharon has welcomed the opportunity to add those to her starter packs.
The donated lunch boxes and drink bottles were a blessing in the classroom as Sharon says that many of her students would have no lunch box, a bread bag or be sharing with an older sibling.
"When I heard about the Sistema programme I thought 'what a great idea' and I was so blown away by their kind donation."
She had been keeping spares in the classroom so that the students' food could be kept fresh throughout the day, but it was not sustainable for several reasons — kids taking them home, getting broken, etc.
Sistema Plastics CEO, Drew Muirhead, says starting school for the first time can be an exciting but challenging time for children and their families.
"Statistics tell us one in four Kiwi kids are living in poverty and thousands of our most vulnerable are being sent to school without lunch every day.
"We want the Sistema School Starter Programme to have a positive impact by encouraging kids to eat healthy lunches."