Bullying is an issue that has been affecting the community of Kaitaia well beyond the school gates, but intervention by student leaders at Kaitaia College is turning the tide, according to the Education Gazette.
It says three years ago the college began a review, described by principal Jack Saxon as "a reimagining and revaluing," that involved every stakeholder, including whanau and wider educational community, to permanently change the school culture.
The six-month review captured the student voice via Wellbeing@school online survey, customised for the college. Students' whanau were also included. Mr Saxon said it had been a successful way to gather information. Focus groups were also used, and have continued. Bullying was identified as a major concern.
The first response was to raise awareness about the effects of bullying, and to encourage people to treat others the way they wished to be treated. The next priority was taking ownership of the issue to stop it, and setting up mentoring support so targeted students received help from other students, using tuakana teina, or buddy principle.
The new strategy is based around the Te Whare Tapu Wha model of Maori health developed by Mason Durie, with the four cornerstones of taha tinana (physical health), taha wairua (spiritual health), taha whanau (family health), and taha hinengaro (mental health).
Mr Saxon and Head of Health Karon Berghan added one more cornerstone — culture.
"We needed to change the culture," Mr Saxon told the Gazette. "Our biggest priority is wellbeing, allowing students to feel safe, and spreading that message.
The most important way to achieve that is a student-driven approach, with students actively at the table when decisions are being made, acting as peer supporters and helping shape decisions."
The school set up five student committees, one for each cornerstone, and the number of student leaders/mentors was expanded from 10 to 75. Some had themselves been bullied, while others had shown bullying behaviour in the past.
The college actively encourages anyone who is bullied to seek help, the ensuing process including a one-on-one discussion with the bully, inside or outside the school grounds.
Year 12 student leader/mentor Trent Buckingham said the student-led approach, without the need for adult intervention, was working.
"When the message comes from students your own age, rather than from teachers and parents, it makes a difference. They know where you are coming from," he said.
The college also hosted special events by Taha Wairua, the health committee, such as Pink Shirt Day, to reinforce the anti-bullying message.
Mr Saxon said there had initially been a spike in reports of bullying, but that had since reduced.
"It's had a huge impact. The school is significantly safer, and a better place," he said.
"We now have to maintain a deliberate focus on enhancing the positive culture that makes the college a safe place to learn."
The next step would be empowering bystanders to take action, via online reporting mechanisms and direct contact with student mentors.
The importance of reporting was also a consistent message at assemblies.
Mr Saxon added that the culture change had improved learning outcomes. According to NZQA figures, NCEA Level 1 success for Maori rose from 48.7 per cent in 2014 to 65.3 per cent last year.
Meanwhile Ms Berghan told the Gazette that the most effective way to deal with bullying was to encourage people not to bully in the first place.
"Bullying is a choice. Developing empathy for others, seeing others' perspectives and understanding the consequences of bullying are all good places to start," she said.
"Positive peer pressure, where students are the ones intervening and providing support to one another, helps to build a culture where bullying behaviour is quickly recognised and rejected, and therefore not tolerated as acceptable behaviour."