Class act

A new Ministry of Education pilot programme is employing part-time Bilingual Support Workers in schools around New Zealand. At Amuri Area School, the programme is already proving its worth.

If you have the good fortune to visit Amuri Area School on your birthday, you may find yourself being serenaded in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines.

‘Maligayang Bati’ – Happy Birthday – is a class showpiece, and, whispers Bilingual Support Worker Leila Tumamao, visitors are allowed to claim that it is their birthday, even when it isn’t.

We are in the Amuri Community Library, which is shared by the school, and the children are happy to show off their knowledge.

“How do we say thank you?” asks Leila.

“Salamat,” the class choruses back.

“How many people live in the Philippines?”

Hands go up. “One hundred and three million,” offers a boy.

“What is a saging?”

“A banana.”

Leila is one of fifty Bilingual Support Workers who have been employed in a pilot programme to support new migrant students in state and state-integrated schools.

Leila’s ten-hour-a-week position embraces a number of roles, says Migrant Student Co-ordinator Claire McCarthy.

Part of the role is working with newcomer students.

Sometimes she and and Leila work with individual students, sometimes with small groups, helping them settle in, master English, and come to grips with the school curriculum and culture.

New arrivals are common.

“One of our little girls has only been in New Zealand a fortnight,” says Claire.

Leila also has a broader, often after-hours, role as a bridge between the school, Amuri’s longstanding residents, and the Filipino community.

In the Venn diagram of Amuri, Leila’s name sits at the intersection of many circles.

Principal James Griggs moved to Amuri Area School from Christchurch in 2015 attracted by the lifestyle.

“It’s a wonderful community. My kids are busier than they were in Christchurch and I get to live in Hanmer and see the snow on mountains when I drive into work in the morning,” he says.

His school draws students from the surrounding district, most arriving by bus. They range from year 1 at the beginning of primary school to year 13 at the end of secondary school.

The children mirror the changing face of the community. These days, 37 of the 347 students are Filipino.

As a group they tend to do well, he says. Their parents are often university qualified, and they place a high value on education.

“If you put in some intensive time when the children first arrive to help them overcome the language barrier, they fly,” he says.

“Two years ago the school dux was one of our Filipino students.”

They are also increasingly engaged in the school’s extracurricular activities.

He points to two of the Filipino boys in a school photograph.

“Those two are in my football team; that one was awarded most valuable player for the season.”

Much of the credit for the success of the Filipino students, he says, is attributable to the dedication of Migrant Student Co-ordinator Claire McCarthy, who at the time he arrived had just completed a postgraduate qualification in teaching English in schools to speakers of other languages.

“We had the right person and a supportive school board. It was just a matter of giving her the time and resources and getting out of the way.”

It was Claire’s work that led to the Ministry of Education’s favourable review of the school’s provision for its English language learners, and that favourable review led to the school being selected as part of the Bilingual Support Worker pilot programme.

In early 2018, James and Claire sat down together and wrote the job description for their new staff member.

They posted it in the local newsletter, The Peril. Claire knew of at least one good potential applicant.

Leila was a prominent member of the school and Filipino communities.

She was a member of a Filipino church congregation, had helped MC Amuri’s annual welcome events, and worked part-time at the Culverden tearooms.

 She was also the mother of an eight-year-old boy attending Amuri Area School.

A year earlier, Leila had worked with Claire to bring Filipino parents to a series of four evening Reading Together workshops.

For time-constrained Filipino families where often one partner had to rise at 4am to milk cows and the other was commuting to Hanmer to work in the hotels, motels and holiday homes, this meant a serious commitment. But the workshops were a great success, says Claire.

“I remember one of the mums looking around the workshop and saying, with surprise, ‘We are all Filipinos!’ They were delighted to be there, and we were delighted too. It meant they were committed to helping their kids read at home.”

After the November 2016 Kaikoura earthquake damaged the Culverden Community Swimming Pool, it was Leila who attended the community meeting and offered to see if the Filipino community could help raise funds for the repair.

At the Amuri A&P show, the Filipino community banded together to cook and sell food to raise funds for the pool.

“The swimming pool committee offered to pay for the ingredients, but in the end we donated everything ourselves,” says Leila.

In short, says Claire, Leila was the ideal candidate. “In some ways, she was already doing the job we wanted.”

Amuri Area School has a tradition of celebrating the cultures of its migrant students.

When Claire first arrived at the school, 11 years ago, most of those student were Fijian Indian, and the school has celebrated Fijian Indian culture with a Diwali festival, as well as Sri Lankan culture with a Vesak Poya or festival of lights.

This year it has been the turn of Filipino culture, with the school marking Buwan ng Wika or Filipino language month.

During the month, the school’s year 1 to 6 students explored the Philippines as part of their social sciences curriculum, and the year 6 and 7 students built model bahay kubo – traditional stilt houses – some of which are on display in the library foyer.

Leila has taught the children some simple prases in Filipino, introduced them to traditional games, and even, with the help of some of the Filipino children and their parents, let them sample some Filipino dishes.

“The parents sat at the back while their children introduced their dishes – and some parents had brought along friends as well,” remembers Claire.

“You could see the unadulterated joy on their faces.”

The stir-fried noodle dish called pansit was such a hit that, in response to popular demand, Leila and Claire have printed out copies of the recipe.

“One of the things we have planned for next term is making parols [ornamental, star-shaped Christmas lanterns] and putting them on public view on one of the school’s trees,” says Claire.

In 2014, when the Ministry of Social Development conducted a series of public consultations with residents of Hurunui District – of which Culverden and the Amuri Basin are a part – one of the issues that was often raised was the need for ‘connectors’ in the community.

The need became even greater in the wake of damage and distress caused by the November 2016 Kaikoura earthquake.

Leila is one of those connectors.

Migration is changing the nature of Culverden and Amuri Basin.

Just outside Culverden, dairy farmer Sharron Davie-Martin has watched as Filipinos who have gained residence find their feet.

“You see the the roots go down, and they relax, if you know what I mean,” she says.

They are working in or even buying local businesses. They are members of Filipino sports leagues and cultural organisations, and of more broad-based bodies such as Rural Women NZ. They compete at the local agricultural events. Some have children at university. They are becoming locals.

“Many intend to go back to the Philippines to retire, but once they have a grandchild or two, that can change,” says Sharron.

And there are benefits for Amuri’s long-time residents too. Their neighbourhood is becoming more open, more connected. More full of surprises and unexpected moments, Leila adds.

“Yesterday, when I was working at the tearooms, someone asked me ‘What does salamat mean? My daughter has been saying salamat to me before she goes to bed,’” says Leila.

“I told her it means ‘thank you’.”

If you have the good fortune to visit Amuri Area School on your birthday, you may find yourself being serenaded in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines.

‘Maligayang Bati’ – Happy Birthday – is a class showpiece, and, whispers Bilingual Support Worker Leila Tumamao, visitors are allowed to claim that it is their birthday, even when it isn’t.

We are in the Amuri Community Library, which is shared by the school, and the children are happy to show off their knowledge.

“How do we say thank you?” asks Leila.

“Salamat,” the class choruses back.

“How many people live in the Philippines?”

Hands go up. “One hundred and three million,” offers a boy.

“What is a saging?”

“A banana.”

Leila is one of fifty Bilingual Support Workers who have been employed in a pilot programme to support new migrant students in state and state-integrated schools.

Leila’s ten-hour-a-week position embraces a number of roles, says Migrant Student Co-ordinator Claire McCarthy.

Part of the role is working with newcomer students.

Sometimes she and and Leila work with individual students, sometimes with small groups, helping them settle in, master English, and come to grips with the school curriculum and culture.

New arrivals are common.

“One of our little girls has only been in New Zealand a fortnight,” says Claire.

Leila also has a broader, often after-hours, role as a bridge between the school, Amuri’s longstanding residents, and the Filipino community.

In the Venn diagram of Amuri, Leila’s name sits at the intersection of many circles.

Principal James Griggs moved to Amuri Area School from Christchurch in 2015 attracted by the lifestyle.

“It’s a wonderful community. My kids are busier than they were in Christchurch and I get to live in Hanmer and see the snow on mountains when I drive into work in the morning,” he says.

His school draws students from the surrounding district, most arriving by bus. They range from year 1 at the beginning of primary school to year 13 at the end of secondary school.

The children mirror the changing face of the community. These days, 37 of the 347 students are Filipino.

As a group they tend to do well, he says. Their parents are often university qualified, and they place a high value on education.

“If you put in some intensive time when the children first arrive to help them overcome the language barrier, they fly,” he says.

“Two years ago the school dux was one of our Filipino students.”

They are also increasingly engaged in the school’s extracurricular activities.

He points to two of the Filipino boys in a school photograph.

“Those two are in my football team; that one was awarded most valuable player for the season.”

Much of the credit for the success of the Filipino students, he says, is attributable to the dedication of Migrant Student Co-ordinator Claire McCarthy, who at the time he arrived had just completed a postgraduate qualification in teaching English in schools to speakers of other languages.

“We had the right person and a supportive school board. It was just a matter of giving her the time and resources and getting out of the way.”

It was Claire’s work that led to the Ministry of Education’s favourable review of the school’s provision for its English language learners, and that favourable review led to the school being selected as part of the Bilingual Support Worker pilot programme.

In early 2018, James and Claire sat down together and wrote the job description for their new staff member.

They posted it in the local newsletter, The Peril. Claire knew of at least one good potential applicant.

Leila was a prominent member of the school and Filipino communities.

She was a member of a Filipino church congregation, had helped MC Amuri’s annual welcome events, and worked part-time at the Culverden tearooms.

 She was also the mother of an eight-year-old boy attending Amuri Area School.

A year earlier, Leila had worked with Claire to bring Filipino parents to a series of four evening Reading Together workshops.

For time-constrained Filipino families where often one partner had to rise at 4am to milk cows and the other was commuting to Hanmer to work in the hotels, motels and holiday homes, this meant a serious commitment. But the workshops were a great success, says Claire.

“I remember one of the mums looking around the workshop and saying, with surprise, ‘We are all Filipinos!’ They were delighted to be there, and we were delighted too. It meant they were committed to helping their kids read at home.”

After the November 2016 Kaikoura earthquake damaged the Culverden Community Swimming Pool, it was Leila who attended the community meeting and offered to see if the Filipino community could help raise funds for the repair.

At the Amuri A&P show, the Filipino community banded together to cook and sell food to raise funds for the pool.

“The swimming pool committee offered to pay for the ingredients, but in the end we donated everything ourselves,” says Leila.

In short, says Claire, Leila was the ideal candidate. “In some ways, she was already doing the job we wanted.”

Amuri Area School has a tradition of celebrating the cultures of its migrant students.

When Claire first arrived at the school, 11 years ago, most of those student were Fijian Indian, and the school has celebrated Fijian Indian culture with a Diwali festival, as well as Sri Lankan culture with a Vesak Poya or festival of lights.

This year it has been the turn of Filipino culture, with the school marking Buwan ng Wika or Filipino language month.

During the month, the school’s year 1 to 6 students explored the Philippines as part of their social sciences curriculum, and the year 6 and 7 students built model bahay kubo – traditional stilt houses – some of which are on display in the library foyer.

Leila has taught the children some simple prases in Filipino, introduced them to traditional games, and even, with the help of some of the Filipino children and their parents, let them sample some Filipino dishes.

“The parents sat at the back while their children introduced their dishes – and some parents had brought along friends as well,” remembers Claire.

“You could see the unadulterated joy on their faces.”

The stir-fried noodle dish called pansit was such a hit that, in response to popular demand, Leila and Claire have printed out copies of the recipe.

“One of the things we have planned for next term is making parols [ornamental, star-shaped Christmas lanterns] and putting them on public view on one of the school’s trees,” says Claire.

In 2014, when the Ministry of Social Development conducted a series of public consultations with residents of Hurunui District – of which Culverden and the Amuri Basin are a part – one of the issues that was often raised was the need for ‘connectors’ in the community.

The need became even greater in the wake of damage and distress caused by the November 2016 Kaikoura earthquake.

Leila is one of those connectors.

Migration is changing the nature of Culverden and Amuri Basin.

Just outside Culverden, dairy farmer Sharron Davie-Martin has watched as Filipinos who have gained residence find their feet.

“You see the the roots go down, and they relax, if you know what I mean,” she says.

They are working in or even buying local businesses. They are members of Filipino sports leagues and cultural organisations, and of more broad-based bodies such as Rural Women NZ. They compete at the local agricultural events. Some have children at university. They are becoming locals.

“Many intend to go back to the Philippines to retire, but once they have a grandchild or two, that can change,” says Sharron.

And there are benefits for Amuri’s long-time residents too. Their neighbourhood is becoming more open, more connected. More full of surprises and unexpected moments, Leila adds.

“Yesterday, when I was working at the tearooms, someone asked me ‘What does salamat mean? My daughter has been saying salamat to me before she goes to bed,’” says Leila.

“I told her it means ‘thank you’.”

The Bilingual Support Worker programme

The Bilingual Support Worker programme is a pilot operated by the Ministry of Education. The programme employs 50 part-time bilingual support workers across New Zealand.

The workers are helping migrant students – particularly students with whom they share a common first language – come to grips with the New Zealand school curriculum.

The workers are also points of connection with parents and the wider community.

As part of the programme, the bilingual support workers must complete the Ministry’s Working with English Language Learners modules.

These are designed to help teacher aides and bilingual tutors achieve best practice in supporting English language learners from migrant and refugee backgrounds.

Teacher Denise Johnson, Bilingual Support Worker Leila Tumamao, and Migrant Student Co-ordinator Claire McCarthy.

On the weekend, the local Filipino community is roasting a suckling pig, a dish called lechon. “One of the mothers will bring some in on Monday for the children to try, so I have to arrange to check with the parents that that is alright,” says Leila.

Denise has a connection with the Philippines that began years ago with a friendship with Filipino classmate. He and his family later hosted Denise and her husband during a visit to the Philippines. Afterwards, the couple stayed on to do voluntary work.

In rural communities, such as Amuri, schools play a huge part in the life of the community. As a venue, Amuri Area School offers a gymnasium, a community hall, a swimming pool and playing fields. The school is even, in a small way, a publisher, turning out a weekly newsletter called The Peril, its 12 pages packed with community notices and advertisements.