Schools unite in public campaign

Deidre Senior. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Based on the saying ‘‘it takes a whole village to raise a child’’, all Waitaki residents are included in a new school attendance campaign.

The first of a series of full-page advertisements appeared in the Oamaru Mail earlier this month, with the bold headline ‘‘School attendance matters’’.

Underneath were testimonies from four residents, explaining why going to school was good for them.

The campaign is being run by the Whitestone Kahui Ako, a community of learning comprising 11 schools from Glenavy to East Otago High School.

Co-lead principal Deidre Senior, who is the Weston School principal, said the Kahui Ako had received funding to support attendance issues.

Rather than split it between the schools, they decided they would get more bang for their buck with a public campaign, Mrs Senior said.

‘‘That would support attendance awareness in all our schools and in the wider district.’’

The Kahui Ako’s action coincided with the Education Ministry’s new attendance and engagement strategy, she said.

In Dunedin, publicity was displayed on buses and billboards.

In Waitaki, the residents’ testimonies personalised the campaign and made it relevant to pupils at the local schools.

Those speaking out about the importance of going to school were chosen from across the district and from different walks of life. They were people who would be recognised and who were stamping their mark in various ways, Mrs Senior said.

The first batch of testimonies came from Kati Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki representative Waiariki Parata-Taiapa, former North Otago rugby player Lemi Masoe, business owner Becky Dennison, and former Otago Volts cricketer and Oamaru policeman Neil Rushton.

‘‘They’re people the community can relate to,’’ Mrs Senior said.

‘‘I approached them and asked what were the benefits of school for them.

‘‘These were their responses. It literally came from the heart.’’

Attending school went way beyond classroom learning, she said.

‘‘The social and emotional benefits are just as important as the academic ones.’’

For children struggling with a tough life, school was a safe and caring place to be, Mrs Senior said.

‘‘As schools, we care. We want children to be here. We’re doing our best. We want to have them here to teach and to get involved.’’

Mrs Senior hoped everyone in the community would ‘‘ask some questions’’ if they noticed children next door were absent from school.

Other local identities would be used later in the campaign, which would run until the end of the year.

A pamphlet on ‘‘School attendance matters’’ in each school enrolment pack was also part of the campaign.