A charity has assembled its "dream team" in Whangarei and will use eight staff members to raise student achievement at four low decile schools.

The initial intake of the 600 pupils in Years 1 to 8 at Tikipunga Primary School, Totara Grove School, Te Kura o Otangarei and Tikipunga High School will see five "navigators" start in classrooms this week, working alongside teachers and installing wraparound service for all the students.

Navigators bridge the gap between the world of family and school to help students succeed, with intensive tutoring and mentorship, working alongside them from the first day of school, to two years into tertiary education or training. Newly-hired navigator Ligi Johnstone said she was in the job for the long haul.

"There's nothing out there that's anything like this," she said.


The I Have A Dream Foundation started its life in Auckland in 2003 with a smaller-scale pilot and now chief executive Ant Backhouse acting as navigator for 53 pupils. Eighty per cent of these students went on to university, compared with 30 per cent of those from similar backgrounds who were not in the programme.

Project managers Joby Hopa and Damien Clark said part of the kaupapa was recognising that relationships between schools and whanau were not always as healthy as they could be, and it was up to navigators to bridge that gap.

"It's the 'it takes a village to raise a child' mentality. So we're just another significant adult in their lives. We're not taking over the role of the parent or teacher," Mr Hopa said.

Whangarei navigator Phoenix Ruka agreed the programme was unique: "My previous job was in suicide prevention. Very much 'ambulance at the bottom of the cliff' stuff. This is about getting them before they even start thinking about heading to the cliff. It's them knowing who they can turn and talk to [and] because it's privately funded, there's not as many restrictions on the work we can do."

Mr Backhouse and I Have A Dream Trust founder Scott Gilmour worked for more than two years to raise money for the Whangarei programme, which costs about $1000 per student per year. They joined forces with the Ngatahi Education Initiative with a mission statement that: "Education is a proven social investment able to break inter-generational cycles of poverty."

Mr Backhouse said he had looked to hire navigators with true passion - the added bonus of the project was that it had created upwards of seven jobs for skilled social workers in Whangarei.