Giv­ing teen par­ents a chance

Amy Jack­man vis­its Lin­den to talk to He Huarahi Tamariki teacher-in-charge He­len Web­ber about why she loves teach­ing, teen par­ents and so­cial work.

Kapi-Mana News - - FEATURE -

Did you al­ways want to be a teacher?

When I left school in the sixth form I went straight to teach­ers’ col­lege. When I was young we weren’t ex­posed to as many op­tions as you get now. It was the op­tion that in­ter­ested me most and I en­joy learn­ing, so that as­pect of it was great. I also did so­cial work. Where have you taught? I’ve worked all around Wellington. Maraeroa School in Porirua, Aotea Col­lege, Mana Col­lege, Whi­tireia, Vic­to­ria Univer­sity – a whole range. At one stage I had three ed­u­ca­tion jobs at once. Why so­cial work? When I started teach­ing the classes were very big. I was in pri­mary. I felt a bit dis­il­lu­sioned by it, so I be­came a so­cial worker. But then I ended up with a big caseload there as well. I also had a year as a relief ma­tron at a pre­re­lease hos­tel. It was with peo­ple who were ex­it­ing prison and reen­ter­ing the com­mu­nity. They were re­ally mo­ti­vated to change. That was fab­u­lous.

What drew you to the teen par­ent unit?

All th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences have led me to my job now. I was in charge of learn­ing sup­port at Aotea Col­lege. With the cor­re­spon­dence school, I would of­ten end up work­ing with peo­ple in the pe­nal sys­tem. I work with peo­ple need­ing and want­ing a sec­ond chance, and that sits well with me. I was at Mana Col­lege and a friend cut out the ad­ver­tise­ment for the job here for me and said, ‘‘This is so you. Ap­ply.’’ I never saw it and wouldn’t have found it if she hadn’t. It’s now nine years later.

What’s spe­cial about the school?

It’s re­ally sat­is­fy­ing to see stu­dents make pos­i­tive choices around their ed­u­ca­tion and lives. I have al­ways been at­tracted by the con­text around peo­ple and sup­port­ing their lives rather than just teach­ing them. It’s very sat­is­fy­ing. Our model al­lows us to of­fer teach­ing and learn­ing in small groups and also to sup­port the stu­dents with wider pas­toral care. It’s a suc­cess­ful model for ed­u­ca­tion.

What is your favourite part of teach­ing at He Huarahi Tamariki?

I work with fan­tas­tic staff and we re­ally have the sup­port of the com­mu­nity. I love see­ing stu­dents dis­cover the joy of learn­ing and par­ent­hood. One of my favourite times of the days is home time. When the girls are re-united with their lit­tle ones you can just see the joy they feel at be­ing par­ents. It makes such a dif­fer­ence to their lives. You can see how much the chil­dren love their mums and how much they thrive here.

Do the stu­dents in­ter­act with their chil­dren dur­ing the day?

If they are breast­feed­ing then they are called when their child needs a feed. Oth­er­wise we re­strict it to breaks and lunchtime. We all have lunch to­gether like a big fam­ily. That keeps the lit­tle chil­dren set­tled in the early childhood area and al­lows the stu­dents time to just be teenagers.

Do the stu­dents keep in touch when they leave?

Yes. We have a grad­u­ate co­or­di­na­tor who net­works with our past stu­dents. We hear about their lives and cel­e­brate their suc­cesses. They drop in and say hello, and send us draw­ings for the fridge. A grow­ing num­ber are go­ing to univer­sity and com­plet­ing de­grees. We have just had the first one of our stu­dents com­plete a mas­ter’s and she is go­ing on to do her PhD. We also hear great sto­ries about our stu­dents in the work­place, get­ting pro­mo­tions and be­ing val­ued mem­bers of staff.

Why do you think schools like He Huarahi Tamariki are im­por­tant?

It’s life- chang­ing for the stu­dents. It gives them a sec­ond chance. One of our for­mer stu­dents, Layna, wrote: ‘‘ I feel proud to rep­re­sent teen par­ents . . . and the school that gave both me and my child a chance. I truly be­lieve that some things in life just stall us or put us on hold. They don’t ac­tu­ally stop us from ac­com­plish­ing what we want to achieve.’’ That sums up what we are about for me.

Is there still a stigma at­tached to be­ing a teen par­ent?

Our mums feel like they are more chal­lenged by pub­lic per­cep­tion. There is a neg­a­tive stereo­type, par­tic­u­larly in the me­dia. They feel they have to work harder to prove them­selves. When the me­dia is talk­ing about prob­lems in a place, it of­ten men­tions poverty, crime and teen par­ents. It’s listed as one of the neg­a­tives. It’s not re­ally jus­ti­fied.

Does hav­ing a child change the moth­ers?

It is a cat­a­lyst for change. A lot of them say that they want to be the best for their son or daugh­ter. They are mo­ti­vated to work well and be the best they can so they can be the best par­ent.

Have you al­ways lived in the Wellington re­gion?

I was born here, but I have lived in the Bay of Is­lands and Taranaki. I came down here again for univer­sity and then I have taught here. I love Wellington. I love the phys­i­cal beauty, its size, its arts fo­cus and the friends I have here.

Photo: AMY JACK­MAN

He­len Web­ber: ‘‘It’s re­ally sat­is­fy­ing to see stu­dents make pos­i­tive choices . . . They want what’s best for them­selves and their ba­bies.’’

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