Birkdale Primary School
Salisbury Road
Cnr Birkdale & Salisbury Rds
Ph: (09) 483 7767
Fax: (09) 483 7763


Introduction to the 10th Anniversary book  by Rachel Long, foundation teacher of  Te Puawaitanga

In 1986, the local Maori community of Birkdale, with the support of Ministry of Education, established a bi-lingual class at Birkdale Primary School. To my understanding, the Maori community felt the need for a Maori language nest for children who were about to enter school after attending Te Kohanga Reo. Although the numbers were small at the time (8 pupils), it was obvious then that in the foreseeable future the high numbers attending Te Kohanga Reo indicated an urgent need for a bilingual class.

The principal, Mr McGillvray was very sympathetic and did his utmost to please everyone. This included the then Ministry of Education, the Pakeha community, the staff members, the pupils, and most important of all, Me.

It was with great apprehension that I took on the responsibility for setting up the class. The first day I arrived, I was greeted by this group of Maori parents. The looks on their faces are so imprinted on my mind, that to this day I see them vividly, looking at me full of expectation for the future of their children, and for Maori. I felt so proud to be amongst such a strong, committed group of people. It was roll up your sleeves girl and get into it. Day by day the reality of all the demands began to unfold. Furniture supplies were plentiful, general learning aids to develop the Maori language were very scarce. Our only reliable source was Aunty Pare, who was at that time, one of the key figures at Te Kohanga Reo. Pare’s deep commitment to the Maori language was a major factor in the development and growth of the bilingual unit. My own ability to speak the Maori language was somewhat depleted. However, it seemed at the time that Pare’s fluent Maori and my experience as a teacher made a wonderful partnership in setting up the unit. In order for the needs of our new Te Kohanga Reo graduates to be met I had to commit myself to learning the language. This meant many nights reading Maori books, particularly the Maori dictionary. Setting up the unit was an exciting time. I have vivid memories of the wonderful, intimate relationship we had with our small class of children. The Te Kohanga Reo pupils visited the school regularly and were very much part of the unit. I would like to mention that all these events were possible because the principal Mr McGillvray, was always supportive and encouraging. He welcomed new ideas and delighted in seeing the Maori language become absorbed in the school programme. I had the deep desire to include the other pupils of the school in the Maori programme. Maybe not to the same depth but a simplified language and culture course. It was an exciting time and there was a very positive feeling in the community. The end of year concert and a school fair showed evidence of a wonderful harmonious existence. Pupils from all classes formed a Maori club and performed at the concert. Parents in the community held a hangi to raise funds. This was truly a great start for the bilingual unit. As the roll grew, so did the challenges. After a two year break from the unit, I returned to find the roll numbers had grown. The foundation members were by now placed in the mainstream classes and there were children from new entrants to standard one. There were twenty-three pupils in the unit. Within the first term of my returning, all the older pupils were back in the unit. This put the numbers up to twenty-nine. This made one big class of pupils ranging from new entrants to standard three. There was to be a lot of changes in the next three years.

I give special mention to Judy Hucker, the principal at that time. Her presence and guidance at the countless whanau meetings showed evidence of her deep commitment to the development of the unit. She was a tower of strength for all involved. There were staff members without whose help and dedication the unit would not have been successful. The pupils in years to come will no doubt look back with fondness and gratitude as I have since leaving almost two years ago. I give special mention to the whanau. They have been the backbone of the unit throughout all these years. To the kaumatua who have been actively involved in educational issues concerning the unit from interviewing new staff, to maintaining a high standard of Maoritanga. A special tribute to those who were members of the Board of Trustees. I say this in appreciation of their assistance with the development of the unit and for building goodwill and harmony in the school community. My final tribute goes to Roger Shearer, the principal of the school, to Ludene Halford, the senior teacher of the unit, to Pare Anderson, the Maori language expert, and to many other staff members of Te Puawaitanga. Kia ora koutou katoa.

Kia ora, Kia ora, Kia ora!

Rachel Long (1996)