Press Release – Whanau Manaaki Kindergartens
Porirua’s Toru Fetū Kindergarten has won a Prime Minister’s education excellence award because of its strong links with its communities. It’s the only early learning service to win an award, which celebrates “outstanding achievements” in early childhood, primary and secondary education.
Toru Fetū means three stars and the kindergarten nurtures three languages and three cultures – those of the Cook Islands, Niue and Tuvalu.
The kindergarten grew from three playgroups, which came together nearly ten years ago to establish a new kind of kindergarten. Some of those original playgroup mothers went on to train as teachers.
The kindergarten is licensed for 80 children spread through three rooms, one for each language, and several children arrive each day in a van provided by the kindergarten. Toru Fetū operates a full day service for children from six months to five years, but it is more than a kindergarten, it is a community hub that offers many other services to families.
Parent Ollie Vettori is of Cook lsland descent, but didn’t speak Cook Island Māori, which is officially classified as a language at risk. He says it’s “really cool’ that two of his daughters had that chance through Toru Fetū, and he had a chance to learn from them. Three of his nephews have also attended, and his wider family appreciates the opportunities to celebrate language and culture. He says the kindergarten gave his daughters, now at school, a really good start.
The vision includes strong language and culture but also quality early education with qualified teachers. Head teacher Trinity Coulston says children develop a strong sense of confidence which helps them as they move on to school. “Definitely.”
The secret to maintaining stong engagement with families is teachers taking time to develop relationships, teachers who have links to the community, and teachers who care, not just about the children but about culture and families and making community connections. “Teachers and parents know each other, trust each other” says Trinity.
The service has had a programme to train its own students who study while working to help develop qualified teachers with Pasifika language skills.
Toru Fetū is part of Whānau Manaaki Kindergartens, which means the caring family of kindergartens. As part of its role, Toru Fetū provide community space for groups to use out of kindergarten hours, and it provides other services such as health services.
Whānau Manaaki’s communities and participation manager Caroline Mareko says playgroup mermbers were worried that they would lose their autonomy when they joined the kindergarten movement. Instead the service has stayed close to its community because of the attitudes of respect that everyone brought with them.
“We have stayed true to the dream we all set out with – we’ve done it” says Caroline.
Toru Fetū is well known nationally and internationally for what it has achieved, inspiring both visitors and invitations to present at conferences both here and overseas.
Here’s a link to a video about the awards: https://www.pmawards.education.govt.nz/finalists/