By Mikaela Collins
A wellbeing initiative born from a collaboration of Whangārei schools has received a "phenomenal" $50,000 grant which one principal says will allow them to plan with certainty.
Whangārei's five Kāhui Ako (communities of learning) - five clusters of schools and early learning services which come together using a staffing and funding resource from the Ministry of Education – formed a hub last year bringing together about 42 schools and 54 early childhood centres.
The hub has been working with local iwi and experts to launch a wellbeing initiative which will look different in each school.
Whangārei Girls' High School principal Anne Cooper said wellbeing was the main barrier to learning for Northland kids.
"We know we've got a lot of kids who – again across all five Kāhui Ako – are not able to have their basic needs met. We are all acutely aware of financial hardship but also a lot of transient students and we've got a lot of grandparents bringing up their mokopuna - let alone all the mental health issues."
The hub has been working on the initiative since early last year but started implementing it earlier this year.
Schools are working with Denise Quinlan from the NZ Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience, Chris and Greg Jansen from the Leadership Lab, and Gayle Wellington as an iwi liaison.
Now they have a $50,000 grant from HealthCarePlus which, Cooper says, is "phenomenal".
"It means a huge amount to us that an outside organisation like HealthCarePlus recognises what we're trying to do.
"The funding means we can plan with certainty now. It takes away one whole level of worry off the table and now we can proceed and finish the project."
Otaika Valley School's wellbeing initiative is already having benefits.
Teacher Hayley Alchin said staff started by looking at teacher wellbeing and the five ways to wellbeing (as per the Mental Health Foundation website) which they plan to take into the classroom to teach to the children.
She said there is a team of teachers, including the principal, who attended wellbeing hub days every term and share back with staff.
"Sharing of responsibilities is important at our school so that everyone feels connected and valued. We have realistic expectations of work hours and are encouraged to have a good work/life balance.
"We have a 'Stress Less' wall in our staffroom where staff take turns to replenish the chocolate source for staff. It's the little things in life that add up to a whole lot," she said.
Teacher Annah Keogh said because of this initiative staff have a "strong sense of loyalty and awareness of how each other works."
"We can pick up on warning signs that others might need support, and we have a huge amount of trust among us. We understand that wellbeing among our staff is something that we need to work on alone, as well as a team," she said.
Cooper said the wellbeing initiative was also beneficial through lockdown.
"I think that with Covid we are far enough along in our work it's been really helpful for us in dealing with the pressures of Covid."
Katrina Casey , Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support, applauded the joint approach schools have taken.
"Over time, we have seen Kāhui Ako move away from a purely academic focus in their achievement challenges to a more holistic focus because they recognise that student wellbeing, engagement and language and cultural identity are fundamental to progression and achievement."