Toru Fetū Kindergarten has made history and now it is changing lives too.
The visionary kindergarten in the Porirua East suburb of Cannons Creek caters for pre-schoolers with Cook Islands, Niuean and Tuvaluan heritage at its heart.
The kindergarten has proven so popular it has a waiting list of children and, recently, won a prestigious Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Award.
Toru Fetū wasn’t the first Pasifika kindy in the country but it is the first purpose-built one. Another facility nearby is catering for the Samoan and Tokelauan communities.
A key aim of Toru Fetū was to increase participation of Pasifika children in high quality early childhood education. This has been achieved through the close relationships with teachers and families.
Before it was opened there was minimal participation in early childhood learning among local families from the three Pasifika groups. Because transport can be an issue for some kindy families, it now has three vans to pick them up.
Senior Head Teacher, Trinity Coulston, says the kindy acts as a bridge to connect families with their culture.
Engagement and empowerment
“It’s about engagement and empowerment,” says Ngaretta Strong, Learning and Community Liaison Teacher.
About 100 families (90 per cent of target families) are involved in the kindy, which is at its maximum fulltime equivalent roll of 80 children.
The women say participation of those on the roll is 100 per cent.
Children attend for a range of hours each day, depending on family requirements as some parents are both working fulltime and some aren’t.
Currently, all the kindy children live in the city of Porirua but occasionally children from Wellington and Lower Hutt have been on the roll.
It’s not an immersion (kōhanga reo) programme. The three languages plus English are spoken so everyone gains an appreciation of them all.
But each of the three Pasifika cultures has its own room and parents can choose which one their child will be in. Some families have a difficult choice to make as their children may identify with more than one of the three Pasifika cultures catered for.
Same values and cultural beliefs
Assistant Head Teacher, Alana Nootai, says that while the three languages are different, the values and cultural beliefs are the same.
Ngaretta says the core values are the glue that sticks everyone together.
Many of the children also have some Maori ancestry so Maori Language Week has special meaning.
The kindy has a staff of 20 and all the teachers are fully qualified. Staff include two daughter-mother teaching teams in the Niuean room and a mother-daughter chef team.
Toru Fetū has a large communal kitchen so healthy lunches can be prepared. There is also a large playground.
Ngaretta says Toru Fetū is special because it was built for the community.
Nearly all the children’s parents were born in New Zealand, themselves the children of Pasifika parents who migrated over past decades.
Taking it home
Most of the kindy parents can understand their family Pasifika language but are not confident speakers. They benefit from their children learning the language at kindy and taking it home. There are also resources the children can take home so the two generations can learn together.
Parent, Ollie Vettori, is of Cook lslands 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 kindy also has a role in liaising with various agencies that families of young children often use, including Plunket, dental services, and hearing and vision checks. The kindy staff are often the first port of call for people wanting to contact the agencies.
At the kindy 100 per cent of children regularly visit the local dental hub to have their teeth checked.
They also receive the Plunket health and well-being assessment before they start school.
Trinity says families trust the kindy whereas they may not know or trust the various agencies their children might have to visit.
Honoured at Parliament
Toru Fetū received the Excellence in Engaging – Atahāpara Award at the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards at the Grand Hall in Parliament in July.
The award celebrates working together as a community to transform relationships and achievement, leading to improved and sustained outcomes for all children and young people. This was the first time Toru Fetū senior management had put the kindy’s name forward. They were finalists in both the engagement and governance sections.
Acting Prime Minister, Winston Peters, presented the award which was a trophy, a framed certificate, and $20,000 towards a special project of the kindy’s choice plus a professional development opportunity.
The kindy grew out of three separate Pasifika playgroups. Alana was one of the parents.
Three communities came together and decided Wellington Kindergartens (now Whānau Manaaki Kindergartens) was the most fitting organisation for what they wanted to establish. Caroline Mareko (Pasifika Co-ordinator for He Whānau Manaaki Kindergartens) helped make the vision a reality.
Partnership helped the vision
In about 2006 a partnership among the three groups was established.
Maraeroa School gifted part of their playground so Toru Fetū could be established there, adjacent to Maraeroa Kindergarten.
The purpose-built complex was built and funded by the Kindergarten Association and the Ministry of Education.
It took some time before the name Toru Fetū was chosen. Toru is a Cook Islands word for three.
Fetū means star in the Tuvaluan and Niuean languages.
The emergence of fulltime early childhood centres in the past decade or two has changed the way kindergartens operate.
Toru Fetū takes children from six months onwards. Children six months to five years are kept together, unlike some types of preschool education where they are separated into two or more age groups.
Some children are at the kindy from 7.30 am until 5 pm, others attend for shorter hours depending on family requirements.
Two days a week Toru Fetū also hosts a Pasifika playgroup, which comes under He Whānau Manaaki Kindergartens.
As for the future, the three women hope there could be some sort of next step at primary school level for their children.
They say the children are more likely to learn more of their culture at secondary school, where there are larger numbers and Pasifika languages may be offered as subjects.
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