Keona Campbell in her practicum classroom.
Keona Campbell wasn't going to let being a mum to two young sons put her off her dream of becoming a teacher.
Now, a Kupe Scholarship worth more than $22,000 is helping the Tai Tokerau teaching student fulfil her ultimate goals - to bring te ao Māori into the mainstream curriculum and to find ways to best support kids from low socio-economic groups.
Campbell (Te Kau I Mua, Ngāti Hine; Ngāpuhi) has always had a strong drive for giving back. As the daughter of a nurse and an environmental health officer from Whangārei, she grew up wanting to make a positive difference in her community.
She worked as a healthcare assistant for more than a decade before a back injury put an end to her dream of becoming a nurse. Instead, she took a job as a teacher aide and soon fell in love with the feeling of having an impact on children's lives.
She's now in her third year of a Bachelor of Education (Teaching) Primary at the University of Auckland's Tai Tokerau Campus. As a mother of two young boys, full-time study was overwhelming at times, but her dedication to teaching kept her going.
"Balancing being a mum, a wife and a student is definitely a challenge – you always want to make sure you're not neglecting any of your roles. But you learn to take things in your stride and make the most of any small pockets of time to get stuff done. Plus, I am fortunate to have whānau support and extremely helpful lecturers at Tai Tokerau."
Campbell's teaching practice, influenced by her own schooling experiences, is centred around two main goals: integrating te ao Māori into mainstream schools and challenging "deficit thinking" for kids from low socio-economic backgrounds.
"There are a lot of Māori students in mainstream schools who miss out on beautiful aspects of their culture, so I try to integrate te ao Māori into the curriculum wherever I go. In my practicum classes, I've also had kids from all around the world, so I'm always working to make sure my classroom is culturally responsive and inclusive."
Finding the best ways to support kids from low socio-economic backgrounds is another issue close to her heart, as she knows first-hand the powerful effects of good teaching.
"I had a teacher who really changed everything for me, during a time when my self-esteem was very low. She was incredibly supportive and always had high expectations of me. That's the kind of teacher I want to be.
"Sometimes teachers can adopt a 'missionary mentality', thinking they should go easy on a child who is doing it tough. The reality is, those children need a teacher who will be their number one supporter, keep challenging them to succeed and remind them that their current situation doesn't determine how their lives will turn out."
It was these values that stood Campbell apart when she applied for a Kupe Scholarship, a prestigious award for Māori and Pacific high-achieving student teachers.
She will go to Parliament to receive the award, which covers course fees, a student allowance and mentoring support.
"Finding out I won the scholarship was one of those pinch-me moments; I started jumping around the room with excitement," she said.
"The scholarship brings so much mana to my whānau. When I was a kid, I remember looking at a university award that my dad won and thinking, 'one day it will be me'. I'm so grateful for the chance to support my whānau and iwi."
With only one more year of study to go, she's looking forward to heading out to find her first full-time teaching role next year.
"I definitely want to stay in Whangārei and keep giving back to the community here. I can't wait to get into my own classroom, try out different teaching strategies and make it my own."