For the senior te reo students at William Colenso College the Tuesday edition of their kaupapa programme was very much a hands-on affair.

And at the end of it the hands were nicely caked in fine clay.

"It is all so worth it ... even the clean-up afterwards," te reo Maori teacher Kahuripene Kawe said with a smile.

"And the kids even enjoy cleaning up too."

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The week-long events effectively commemorate Maori Language Week, although it is a lot more than just words, and the daily programmes were not set by their teacher.

"The kids are driving it," Kawe said.

"I'm the gas."

This is her second year at William Colenso College and she said she had seen a lift in the desire to learn more and engage more with te reo Maori.

It was important her students drive the ideas, she said, because that ensured their total devotion to it — as their classroom clearly shows.

"Everything in the classroom is them ... I just get the stuff."

Oceana Nepia is all concentration as she works on her clay-work piece. Photo / Duncan Brown
Oceana Nepia is all concentration as she works on her clay-work piece. Photo / Duncan Brown

On Monday the class kicked off the week with some traditional Maori sport and workshops including poi making.

Tuesday was the clay-making of pendants and miniature whares, or anything linked to the culture the kids decided to pursue, and on Wednesday it was arts and crafts and the creation of korowai (cloaks).

Thursday was a time for viewing te reo history through DVDs sent to the school by the Education Ministry and Friday will be a day for kai tahi - a shared lunch for all the students and their whanau to enjoy.

"The inspiration has come from the kids and that is so meaningful and enjoyable for them."

It was the third event the students had helped drive in just two terms.

They had previously helped the children and whanau of Puketapu Primary School celebrate Matariki and had also taken a large group of Year 7 and Year 8 pupils to Pukemokimoki Marae.

Kawe's mother came from Waimarama but died when she was an infant so she was brought up outside the region.

But after completing her education at Waikato she was determined to come back to where she felt was home.

"Back with my whanau," she said, adding that her role at the college also had a close whanau feel about it.

"She has been outstanding," principal Daniel Murfitt said.

Since Kawe took on the role there had been a clear lift in te reo Maori. She embraced the week-long celebration and was pleased how it was being taken aboard by so many people.

"It highlights how important te reo is and not just to Maori — it is to all cultures," she said.

"We should be celebrating it and learning from it."

Murfitt said he began learning te reo Maori 13 years ago and said the whole process had been "more than just learning Maori".

It was much more than that, and he had seen how the young people who had also taken the journey of te reo Maori learning had grown so much emotionally stronger and felt confident with their roles in society.