Second chance schooling is bringing success to many students who haven’t fitted in at their local secondary schools.
They have swapped failure, absenteeism and conflict at school for the family atmosphere at Porirua Alternative School (Alt) in Cannons Creek where doing their best is highly encouraged, but it is okay to fail too.
Set up in 1984 by Lloyd Martin, Alt is run by Christian organisation Praxis. With a slogan of Building Resilient Young People, Alt is housed in a former tavern now home to Freedom Church and the Cannons Creek Boxing Academy, an off-shoot of the Billy Graham Boxing Academy in Naenae.
Alt draws students mostly from the local area’s Aotea, Porirua, Mana, Tawa and Bishop Viard secondary schools. Students stay on the roll of the school they came from but spend every day at Alt.
People look at Alt as a school for naughty kids but if you were to come in and see what we do, we’re exactly like any other college except it’s actually fun to attend every day and earn NCEA credits,” writes Jonah, a former student.
“I would recommend coming to Alt for those who find it hard at mainstream. Alt provides NCEA credits. We are like a family and it’s easier to learn here because the teachers help and support us and it’s not such a big environment,” Jonah says.
Another, Angel, wrote that Alt had increased her attendance to 90 per cent and given her NCEA credits.
“At one time there I had negative thoughts, like, for example, I didn’t think I could do it. Now that I can see the difference between my credits and attendance from last year, I am proud of myself. Someone who once thought they couldn’t achieve it, did achieve it. This school has taught me that it’s okay to fail, always try your best.”
Blaine joined Alt in 2016.
“I slowly became aware of school and started understanding why I needed education throughout my life and why it was important. Alt changed me mostly by being a family and sticking to the kaupapa values [see footnote below] and having each other’s back.
It made me strive higher in life and showed me that we could do anything if we worked hard and never gave up.”
“ This is a place of values and gives us a second chance at school. It’s an honour to come to this school and be able to be a part of the Alt life,” wrote Blaine.
Achieving NCEA credits is a constant theme among former and current students.
Among 2018 Year 10 to 12 students, all are working towards NCEA credits. Some have achieved credits a year ahead of their peers elsewhere. NCEA usually starts in Year 11 (former fifth form) but Alt has at least one Year 10 student who has gained credits.
A typical day
Alt has two vans it uses to pick students up every day.
Asked if they would come to Alt if they weren’t picked up, the response is a chorus of “probably not”.
Lessons are taught in small groups every morning. They say one-on-one time helps them understand their schoolwork.
Afternoons are filled with walks in the nearby Belmont Regional Park or on the beach, learning to cook and helping local community organisations. The students are also running sausage sizzles at local shops to help pay for a school trip to Christchurch in June. There they will meet students from a similar school there. They also hope to do some skiing.
For the current students it will be their first trip to the South Island.
Among the students who have stayed on from last year, maths, social studies and art are the most popular subjects.
Gaining meaningful employment
Coming to Alt has focused the students on goals for learning and the possibility of one day joining the workforce.
Work goals among current students include becoming a beautician, joining the Army or becoming a prison guard.
Alt is also a stepping stone to tertiary education in a city that offers many choices. Students who left last year have moved into training opportunities in hairdressing and mechanics.
Staff from the tertiary providers visit Alt to talk about courses on offer.
Alt’s staff all have qualifications in both education and youth work.
Manager, Levi Faamau, in his seventh year at Alt, says 2018 is starting out with about 11 students and expects to increase to the maximum of 24 as the year progresses. Already some referrals are under way.
It is not uncommon for students arriving at Alt to have zero NCEA credits.
Levi says it’s about seeing young people happy and seeing a slow change.
“It’s a journey,” he says.
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The kaupapa of the Alt School is based on the Circle of Courage, a North American Indian model which identifies four developmental needs that must be met in order for a young person to thrive.
These are the need to belong, the need to become competent (mastery), the need to become responsible for themselves (independence), and the need to act generously toward others.
These needs are normally met as part of the healthy village needed to grow a child. The Alt School aims to provide an environment in which these needs are met.