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Identity discovery led to Pasifika dance school

Poly Club Year 13 student, Lulani Siemsen, and Jayden with ili, Pasifika fans used in their dances.
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Jayden Luapo’s face lights up at the mention of Porirua Activity Centre (PAC), which looks after students who are at risk. 

The two terms he spent there helped him find the path that led him to establish a Pasifika dance school.  Jayden (pictured above with Lulani Siemsen) learned a lot about himself, after being removed from college at Year 10.

He loved the PAC environment and describes his time there as the best terms of his entire schooling.

I found out who I was and what I wanted to do and where I would end up if I didn’t do something about it.”

His top motivation was to not be labelled another Polynesian statistic by the Government.

“Spiritually and emotionally PAC helped me deal with my demons.”

He learned how to deal with emotions – something that made it easier to deal with the years that followed.

PAC is one of about a dozen activity centres for secondary school students at risk of disengaging from mainstream schooling. The programmes aim to transition students back to their school or onto further education or employment.

Jayden’s journey

Jayden, 24, was born in Wellington of Samoan and Cook Island ethnicity.

He grew up in Porirua East and was educated at Holy Family School until he started in Year 7 at Bishop Viard College.

During Year 10, his parents wondered why he was becoming disruptive in class. He did the wrong things in an attempt to fit in and thought he was cool doing so.

It didn’t work and led to him spending the last two terms of the year at PAC.

He is grateful to all the staff there but, particularly, Nicky Parsons, who has since become the director.

Jayden’s studies there went into overdrive.

He says no-one had told him he had potential until he went to PAC.

“I did so much correspondence . . . I just sucked it up.”

His return to Viard went well but he missed PAC and the one-on-one tutoring.

It was the beginning of the school year for NCEA Level 1. He worked harder than previous years and “mostly” kept out of trouble. He also helped teach the Poly Group there for his remaining years at Viard College.

He knew he wanted to study something related to his culture but was undecided it if would be art or drama.

“PAC helped me identify this, it really made me appreciate my culture and what I stand for.”

Nicky says that while PAC may have started the process of change for Jayden, “I know he was well-supported by his college when he returned alongside his family and friends and so the confidence, self-belief and success continued.”

For many young people there is a clash between who they are, who they want to be and who others think they may or may not be.

“Being at PAC is about restoring yourself. Having the time to talk about, reflect and move forward from ‘this is where I am,’ to ‘this is where I want to be’. There are opportunities to practise and refine what this looks like. This is done in a positive and caring way.”

After Jayden finished secondary school he took a gap year that included working as a lollipop man on traffic control. He also began tutoring a Poly group at Newlands College.

Jayden has also spoken at a PAC end of year graduation.

“The response from the audience, that included principals, senior staff, police, whanau/family, students and PAC staff was amazing and his whaikorero was inspirational to all who were present,” says Nicky.

“He has worked with our students, teaching them a Pasifika routine and he, along with other students who have moved on, are spoken about and connections made, as a way of moving forward for other students.”

Jayden Luapo, right, with Sione Valu, a Year 11 Tawa College student who belongs to the school’s Poly Club.

Formation of a dance school

Jayden’s application to the Whitireia Performing Arts School in central Wellington was successful and the following year he began his degree studies.

His studies were cut short when he had to leave to care for his partner, Sophia Uele, after the complicated birth of their daughter, Italya-Blessing Uele-Luapo, now two years old.

Jayden hasn’t completed the degree but was able to graduate with a diploma.

Jayden and Sophia have begun the Tautua Dance School. They run private paid classes using Tairangi School in Ascot Park. One aim is to make the classes accessible and reasonably priced.

The classes are in Pasifika dance and singing for pre-school, primary and secondary ages, two days a week after school.

There is a mix of Maori, hip hop, Cook Islands and Samoan culture with guest tutors from the smaller Pasifika islands.

Jayden believes success in anything is more the result of hard work than natural talent.

Hard work gets you further in life than talent.”

The most rewarding part of teaching is seeing the transformation in children from when they first started lessons with him.

Jayden also teaches – on a voluntary basis – the Tawa College Samoan Group before and after school.

Members include Samoan, Tongan, Maori, Pakeha, Tokelauan, Cook Islanders and, even, a Russian. Jayden says they are excellent students.

At about 40-strong it is one of the largest the college has had.

Currently, they are preparing for the Northern Regional Polyfest at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua in August.

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