WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

A cultural immersion for Newtown teachers

Cecily McNeill

A trip to Samoa at the end of last term proved an unexpectedly emotional experience for 12 teachers from St Anne’s School, Newtown, and underlined the importance of seeing education as life-long learning.

St Anne’s School is offering classes in Gagana Samoan (language) as well as te reo Māori, from next year and teachers were keen to see how the language is taught in Samoa.

Deputy principal, Pele Tui, and bilingual support teacher, Malie Alefosio, carefully planned the whirlwind, nine-day visit. They wanted the teachers to experience the culture as well as interract with teachers and schools in Samoa.

Principal Doreen O’Sullivan said an important learning for her was to realise the impact of the transition from Samoa to school in Newtown.

‘In the past we’ve said, “right you’re here now, get on with it.” But I’ve seen the contrast between Samoa and here and I realise how hard it must be for children to arrive on the weekend and be at school on Monday. So it’s been important to begin the process of understanding this transition and how to facilitate that better.’

Connecting with other teachers and discussing ways of engaging children, particularly boys, in learning was a key goal for the visitors. The director of religious studies and Year 1 teacher, Lesina Tafuna’i, said some children were struggling with their original language because of a requirement that they sit an english exam in Year 8.

‘The teachers were teaching to the exam and some children were missing out,’ she said.

‘We have learnt the importance of children studying in their original language through the experience of Māori children so we were able to share this with them,’ Lesina said.

Two highlights for the visitors were going to a rest home and meeting some of the people there, and visiting the Carmelite monastery.

‘I was not prepared for the emotion that these places brought out,’ Doreen said. ‘I looked around at some of the other teachers and they were crying, too. We made a strong connection with these people and the sisters were very engaging and invited us back a second time.’

The trip also gave the school’s four Samoan teachers an insight into some cultural practices that they would perhaps never have had. As visitors they were invited to participate in a kava ceremony which is reserved for titled Samoan men. And because there was no Samoan male to speak on behalf of the visitors, the women took up this role.

Lesina said her husband had suggested that this situation might arise so she had done some thinking about what she would say.

‘But I was very nervous and it was only Doreen’s hand on my shoulder that kept me going.’

Malie said she learnt a great deal about the importance of giving and receiving gifts.

‘This is so much a part of Samoan culture but we had to know when and what to give and when to hold back.’

Another great learning came from observing the way the parents are involved in their children’s schools.

The parents go to school on the bus with the children and, because some can’t afford the bus fare home, they stay at the school for the day. Fales (houses) are situated around the school grounds and the parents sit in them while their children are at school. The house system in schools is fiercely competitive so the parents dress in the colours of their children’s house and earn house points by doing odd jobs around the school and helping with classes by, for example, hearing reading.

‘We’ll be involving the parents of our children much more now,’ Doreen said.

The teachers were also impressed with the respect shown in Samoa for the environment.

‘After each break the children pick up the rubbish from the playground then brush themselves down. We’ll be working to institute some of these practices around here but it won’t be easy,’ she said.

The travellers are now keen to get the teachers they met in Samoa to return the favour.

‘It’s the culture of St Anne’s school that everyone is so friendly and we encouraged the teachers over there to come here and spend some time with us at our school,’ Pele said.