Janine Tupaea strives for a school with happy and committed students. PHOTO / FILE
As the first semester of a new school year advances, education reporter TOM TAYLOR reaches out to Wairarapa principals, who share her visions for 2021 and the lessons they have learned in 2020. This week Solway College Headmistress Janine Tupaea talks about high school students. Being and the advantages of a small school.
Tom Taylor: What is your vision for Solway College in 2021?
Janine Tupaea: Our school is full of happy and dedicated girls who embody the “Solway Way” and strive for excellence. We want to give our young women the opportunity to believe that anything is possible for them and that they will thrive and lead on purpose today and in the world of tomorrow.
TT: How do you manage the “buzz” in school?
JT: By celebrating successes and making sure we have meaningful learning opportunities inside and outside our classrooms because we value holistic education. It’s not just about what’s going on in the four walls of the classroom, but also about all the elements of a holistic education. We purposely focus on the physical, spiritual, intellectual and social aspects and this helps us to promote the well-being of the students.
TT: Solways Wellness Program is based on a Maori health model. Can you explain how this works?
JT: Part of our special character has always been the holistic educational model. The founding director [Marion Thompson] talked about the development of the whole person. The Whare Tapa Wha model is the Mason Durie model of wellbeing. It fits in perfectly with what the holistic educational philosophy already was … It has a good visual representation of the walls of a whare and like all the different elements of it [physical, spiritual, family, and mental health] are needed for the well-being of a full person.
TT: How does Solway promote physical health in particular?
JT: Part of our special character is that we have compulsory sport. We have a place on our schedule every Tuesday afternoon, where all of our students do physical activity and take part in team sports in Solway from 2 p.m. onwards. The physical side is extremely important for well-being … We are very committed and involved in sport. One of the perks of boarding is that our girls are on site and the boarding team can take them anywhere they need to be.
TT: How does boarding school students change the dynamics of a school?
JT: Solway is a family school. We can only have 45 day girls, so the majority of us  Student board. Some schools tend to stick to their annual levels, but at Solway we have a school nurse program, we eat in the dining room with girls in groups from 7th to 13th grade and we really pay attention to that Tuakana-Teina relationship within our school . All of our students know each other and all of our teachers know each and every student.
TT: Where do most of the boarders come from?
JT: We have some students from Auckland, Waiheke Island, Nelson, some from Taupo, Napier and many from Wellington and Manawatu. They’re basically from all over New Zealand. We also have international students from China, Hong Kong and Japan.
TT: What do you think is attracting all of these students to Solway?
JT: I think it’s our special character. The fact that we are a small school is a real attraction. I’ve worked in schools of all sizes – prior to Solway, I was at a school in 2000 as the principal at Mount Roskill Grammar School in Auckland. I see the big advantages of a small school. Although in large schools we talk about the structures we have to ensure that no student falls through the gaps, in a small one like Solway each of our employees knows each of our students: their passions, what they need support in and their strengths. I can go home hand in hand every day knowing that we did our best for all of our students. This, as well as our family values and our Christian values, are things that parents from all over New Zealand are looking for. They know it is a safe place and that students will get the best result.
TT: Being a small school seems to be beneficial in many ways. How does it affect your class sizes?
JT: In our primary school, the average class size is 15 students. In the senior school we really commit to and invest in these small class sizes as we still offer the full range of subjects. We still offer separate courses in chemistry, physics, and biology. So it is quite common for us to have a 12th grade physics course that may only have six students. It’s a fantastic way to provide this personal support to our students.
TT: What lessons did the school learn during the lockdown last year?
JT: How important it is to stay connected with our community. We had weekly online school meetings and these were great because we could have all kinds of activities: competitions, students playing musical instruments. It was an opportunity for us – because we are such a family school – to make regular contacts, see everyone and have a bit of fun along the way. We had regular communication with our students, their parents and staff and encouraged how they could access support.
The learning went on basically the same. We made sure that each of our students had devices before they left school and we stuck to our normal class schedule throughout the day so our students were still studying online for full days. I think it showed us that learning can continue but it was just great going back to school as those personal connections and those relationships that naturally occur in the classroom require a lot more effort through the computer.