Carving a new future for at-risk students

By Iulia Leilua

The therapeutic qualities of Māori weaving and carving are being used to help at-risk students at Papakura High School reengage with learning.

Carver Raniera Lee and his wife Muna, an expert weaver, joined the school's staff last year as part of a new strategy to help improve the students' educational success.

The school's troubled reputation once saw it teeter on the brink of closure.  School fights and poor student success had triggered a plunge in student numbers from 1,500 to less than 500 just a few years ago.

But under new principal, John Rohs, Papakura High is making a comeback and now sits at 650 students.

"We have been hugely gratified to see Raniera and Muna use their mahi toi as a vehicle to help those young people find real strength in their own identity and to start feeling more confident in who they are and their capacity to learn," says Rohs.

Raniera and Muna say carving and weaving have a calming effect on students and teaches them patience.  It also gives them a sense of achievement when they finish a project.

"For us, they are just like any kids," says Raniera.  "We treat them just like our own whānau and with whānau you have to have a bit of tolerance and a bit of patience.  But once they see you're investing time into them, that’s more productive as opposed to kicking them out and sending them somewhere else where they are not my problem anymore."