Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom

Enough about covid: Adventure program to help low decile learners enter university makes a splash

Whether they were swinging from a trapeze, abseiling from a high beam or assembling a raft, 80 students from Aorere College had an adventure-filled start last month to a programme that hopes to offer them more options for their future.

Fortunately able to go ahead before the Covid-19 lockdown, the Year 10-13 group enjoyed a team building camp at Kokako Lodge in Hunua to launch the student-centred programme, with Aorere College (South Auckland) programme leader, deputy principal Leanne Webb, and other senior teachers there in support.

The philanthropically-funded Buchanan Programme for UE Success will operate in four South Auckland schools: Alfriston College, Onehunga High School, Tangaroa College and Aorere, with the aim of providing intensive academic and mentoring support to promising Years 10 to 13 students to significantly increase their chances of achieving University Entrance.

“The high expectation programme’s design,” says University of Auckland senior analyst Victoria Cockle, “is based on everything we’ve learnt about what will make the most educational difference for these students, who have so much potential but might otherwise lack opportunities. It’s intended to be flexible and designed within each school’s individual context.”

The central premise is ‘buying out’ a significant amount of a senior teacher’s time to be each student’s academic mentor, ally and advocate. They will also provide pastoral care support and be the key whānau contact.

Flying high on the trapeze; students were encouraged to challenge themselves.

This work will be complemented by extra tutoring in core UE subjects like English, maths and science, and mentoring from students who have graduated from each school and are now successfully engaged in university study.

Back at camp and busy in the kitchen, Leanne Webb says she’s really excited to be involved.

“I see this programme, which is based on retention, achievement and extra tuition, as controlling the quality of the opportunity for these students. It’s keeping their options open, so even if they don’t decide to go to university, they still have the choice; and it’s allowing them to share a commonality of purpose and focus on an end product.”

Looking out the kitchen window at all the smiling faces and laughter as the students move around a specially-designed ‘Great Race’-style course in groups, she says the camp has been a wonderful multi-level bonding and trust exercise.

“You can see that it’s building relationships and also providing a great opportunity for leadership, as the Year 13s engage with the younger students.”

A ‘Great Race’ group try to make a floatable raft from bamboo poles and old tyres in just 20 minutes.

The Buchanan programme plans to address the disproportionately low number of students who attend university from lower decile schools. Just 28 percent of students from decile one to three schools in New Zealand achieved University Entrance in 2018, compared with 63 percent from deciles eight to ten.

The programme draws on long-term research carried out at the Woolf Fisher Research Centre, the Centre for Educational Leadership and the Starpath Project, all based at the University’s Faculty of Education and Social Work.

It has been funded by Drs Trevor and Caroline Gray of the Buchanan Foundation, who were keen to help students in low decile schools pursue tertiary study. The foundation’s gift of $1.867 million will fund the pilot project over the next four years and was received as part of the University of Auckland’s For All Our Futures campaign.

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