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Whole school approach to physical activity for wellbeing

Children looking at a garden with their teacher

Kauri Flats Principal Matt Williams and deputy Ezra Feau are committed to prioritising the wellbeing of their ākonga.  They have seen first-hand the difference it makes with attendance and engagement.

“When you have a healthier child they want to be at school. They realise ‘oh I’m not just here for my writing, and reading, and math. I’m here for everything’.  That’s the type of environment we are trying to create here,” Matt says.

“Our hauroa sits in everything we do.  It’s part of our strategic plan. Our annual plan, our strategic goals. Everything. It’s the embodiment of the school.”

The pair say they noticed a significant increase in student wellbeing needs after COVID lockdowns, particularly around their activity levels and basic movement skills. Impacting this further was the new suburb of Kauri Flats was a rapidly expanding development with many houses lacking spaces for children to play.  This was the catalyst to prioritise hauora across the school.

“We found kids came back and had no skills. Nothing. They were afraid to walk around and jump on things. Just that lack of risk taking started appearing. Not wanting to get out of the comfort zone,” Ezra says.

“We felt like that was our duty to make sure we provide as many opportunities as possible to our kids to learn and to develop their holistic wellbeing.”

The school has done that despite not having a school field or playground, due largely to being a construction site since opening six years ago. When COVID restrictions continued there were socially distanced sailing and cycle trips. Now there are a number of activities for ākonga including wilderness trails complete with insect hotels, mud kitchens, vege gardens, and Wheels Wednesday – a weekly event which allows skateboards, bikes and scooters to have full reign of the carpark.  There’s also a kete of equipment in every classroom to get ākonga outside and learning through movement– without having to go to the PE shed.

Tamariki playing on a school court

A key support along the way has been the Healthy Active Learning team at CLM Community Sport. The joint-government wellbeing initiative led by Sport NZ to help schools and kura create healthy and active learning environments and better connections to their community.

Specifically, the school has built a close relationship with the school’s designated Healthy Active Learning advisor, Tracey-Lee Dalton. Tracey has been a sounding board – and contributor - for new ideas to try, she’s supported the development of the hauora curriculum, and worked closely with teachers around teaching fundamental movement skills through other curriculum areas like numeracy and literacy. That has included introducing teachers to the free games-centered resource Movewell as a tool to support Te Taha Tinana of students. Tracey-Lee has also supported the school to access Tū Manawa Active Aotearoa Funding, which has been used to fund whole school hauora days, COVID sailing expeditions, and the newly installed mud kitchens.

“She is the most valuable asset we have in this school,” Matt says.

“I think without her we wouldn’t have made as much progress as quick. We would have made progress, but she’s just helped us drive that so quickly. That different lens, the wider lens she has offered, is amazing.”

Meanwhile, Tracey-Lee is quick to celebrate the creativity, innovation, and commitment of the school – including the school board - to enhancing the wellbeing of its tamariki, kaiako, and wider community.

Key to ensuring the support of the board, Ezra adds, is communicating “little and often”  to keep them in the loop. That includes the school’s innovative use of the student management system ‘Hero’ to capture ongoing student voice in real time.  Hashtags relate to the four pillars of Te Whare Tapa Whā, which ākonga and kaiako tag to anything they are posting.

“That is then transferred to our board at our meetings so we can be like ‘oh yeah, you can see in this class we’ve got 16 posts that relate to Te Taha Wairua’ and so the next few weeks they’ll be focused on Te Taha Tinana,” he says.

“Our board is seeing everything. They understand the same language that we are using in class and the same importance that we are giving to all the other activities.”

Whānau have also been central to the development of the hauora curriculum. There are annual community consultations – with separate ones for Māori, Pasifika, and Indian whānau – and in-person and online opportunities  which ensure  everyone feels they have a voice.

Matt insists the school hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary but does recognise its success in creating a school environment which ākonga want to come to – the result of having the courage to take risks.

“A lot of attendance is not just on the parents, it’s kids who are disengaged. if they’ve got a learning programme that they want to come to school for, they are going to come to school,” he says.

“It comes back to relationships and that teachers are here for the kids. Not just because it’s their job. Teachers and students feel respected, valued, and that they have a voice.”

Speaking to their success, Kauri Flats and the Healthy Active Learning team at CLM Community Sport recently received a Merit Award at the 2023 Recreation Aotearoa Awards – ‘Outstanding Community Recreation Programme’: Unrelenting Pursuit to Enhance our Hauora’. 

Aktive, CLM Community Sport, Harbour Sport, Sport Auckland and Sport Waitākere are proud to be part of Healthy Active Learning in Tāmaki Makaurau. This sees the collective supporting primary and intermediate schools to create healthy and active learning environments and better connections to their local communities.

This story was originally published in the Education Gazette, 16 November 2023.

Tamariki playing at a mud kitchen

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