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For students of Kerikeri High School with special educational needs, their teacher aides are always alongside them – listening, understanding, and encouraging.

In the Northland Bay of Islands, Kerikeri High School supports around 1500 students from year 7 to year 13. They have a diverse range of students from different socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities. They are also seeing students coming through with serious and complex behavioural and learning needs. Teacher aides play a huge role in supporting these students.

Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator, Mrs Maria Halliday, says the role “has become quite specialist because they have to be so skilled now.”

“More so now than ever more, students coming through are struggling to regulate their big emotions, so they’re manifesting their struggles with ‘bad’ behavior. What our teacher aides do are working on addressing and doing more of a mentoring role to help these students regulate their big emotions. It’s not just a matter of going into a classroom sitting with a student and helping them do their work anymore.”

To ensure that teacher aides have the tools they need for the increased responsibility, Kerikeri High School decided to enroll them in the Community Facilitation Apprenticeship with Industry Training Organisation, Careerforce. Ten teacher aides signed up to do the apprenticeship programme that leads to the awarding of a nationally recognised level 4 qualification.

Mrs Halliday shares, “once they started the study, very quickly they realised there is an official language and theories behind what they do, they became more reflective, and they’re relating the school values and policies and procedures into their practice.”

Being a teacher aide for 6 years now, Leah Goldman finds herself more aware of the effects of socio-economic and cultural identity factors to her students. She says, “It’s been definitely new learning for me. It’s a subject and industry that I haven’t studied or been involved with in the past. It’s interesting learning.” A former Promotions and Events Manager, Leah admits that she has not studied for quite some time but welcomed the opportunity to learn something that is very relevant to her role.

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Grace Calvert has been in the role for 3 years and has recently finished the programme shares, “The knowledge you gain from it is amazing. To also have the certificate behind you, you’ll have that wherever you go. It shows you have that skill.”

As part of the programme, apprentices are asked to examine an issue or condition. Grace looked into the effects of poor housing quality in Northland. “We have students coming from homes that are not really very suitable homes and now I’m looking for those indicators in our role. You start asking: are they hungry, did have a good sleep that night, did you have breakfast, did you sleep well?”

“There’s more focus on the hauora (wellbeing) of a student is met rather than just education or academic,” explains Mrs Halliday.

The role is very rewarding and one that makes a difference. Grace shares, “For me the magic moments are the little things. I look after a boy and it’s great to watch him every year step up and grow up a little bit more and taking responsibility of his own life. He did well in class today and he looks at me and he’s so happy. I tell him that I’m so proud of you, you did it today.”

With the introduction of the government’s Targeted Training and Apprenticeship Fund, enrolment to Careerforce’s apprenticeship programmes in health and wellbeing are currently fees free.

Mrs Halliday says the programme is a steppingstone for teacher aides. “Three of them are already thinking about that their next step is teacher training. One has come from a support work role in the community and this programme is still relevant if she wants to go back and work in the community. I’m looking at one to become my OIC and going well, she’d do a business paper after this programme. She can then train for my role and we can diversify the role.”

“A good boss is someone who trains the person to take their role and so there’s a lot of opportunity for this role to move into in different areas.”