When four French nuns travelled to New Zealand from Lyon, France in 1884 and purchased two acres of land in Hamilton East, Catholic education in the Waikato was born.
Today Sacred Heart Girls’ College staff and students are showing the same pioneering spirit on the land the four women bought by cultivating a relationships’ first approach with the community.
Instead of spending time in the classrooms for the first week back at school, all 940 students and staff will challenge ‘educational norms’ by putting curriculum learning on hold and develop meaningful relationships with students, teachers and their whānau.
Whanaungatanga, building relationships, starts with a whole of school pōwhiri and continues with student mentoring activities, guest speakers, goal setting and learning conversations.
It wraps up with competitive house events to lay the foundation for a supportive and nurturing environment.
The school actively seeks opportunities to engage with local businesses to provide students with opportunities to transfer these skills beyond the school gates.
Programmes like Gateway allow students to experience potential career pathways and through Smart Waikato Secondary School Employer Partnerships the school collaborates with Three Peaks Honey, Paua Architects, BCD Group, HD GEO, and Hamilton City Council.
School principal Catherine Gunn said the nuns’ passion for education developed into the charism of communion, contemplation and mission is still prevalent in the school community today.
Those manākitanga principles – showing respect, generosity and care for the people who are part of the greater school community – are at the heart of the initiative.
“We are not like other schools because of our Catholic character. Building community and nurturing positive connections is a core aspect of our faith formation and our culture of care.
“The global skills students learn from a ‘relationships-first’ approach mean we are supporting our students to develop the confidence in our young women,” she said.
“No robot or AI can do caring like we can.”
Paua Architects business development manager Phil Mackay said his practice valued the opportunity to engage with the school and see students provided with real-world examples of the concepts they are learning.
“They’re engaged and enthusiastic and are learning to build meaningful relationships; we value this as a business.”
Deputy principal Caroline Gill, who leads the project, said research showed that strong relationships provided a foundation for student engagement, belonging and learning.
“The more high-quality relationships students have with their peers and teachers, the better their engagement is in school.”
The school will create space and opportunity to practice a radical inclusiveness which benefits everyone in the community, she said.
Parent Abbie McCall of Te Awamutu supports the programme and working with businesses.
“Our young wahine love building relationships with their teachers and community.
“If the foundations of a sense of belonging and care are strong, this only builds them up and forward in their education.”
- Penny Thompson is marketing and communications manager at Sacred Heart Girls’ College in Hamilton.