Posted on Sep 14, 2023
Ava gave us a thought provoking insight into a type of school very different to the current standard system.  Certain it is that many of our students are failing under the present state system as evidenced by alarming truancy statistics and falling standards in international standardised tests.  Ava started a Montessori School in Waddington Drive/Rata Street earlier this century and it has now grown to 270 students, 160 primary, 110 secondary. Overall 17% of students are Maori, 60% European, and there are very few Pacifica, but there are now higher figures for Maori, Asian and Pacifica among the younger students, reflecting the changing demography of the area.
Ava herself is married, with four children, and believes passionately in the Montessori approach.
This approach emphasises respect, mutually for teachers and students, and enhances childrens' ability to do things for themselves, when they are ready, and where possible learning by doing with a strong practical component.  Thus repairing bikes can lead to mathematical and technological skills, and running small businesses such as planting and caring for 50 fruit trees will teach botany  and selling produce or barista coffee leads to mathematics, economics, accounting and financial planning.  Small groups will be given $200 to set up a company  to make and sell goods or services in real life.  To this end the school has many facilities including wood turning equipment and a commercial kitchen.
As well as learning to succeed commercially students also learn to work for others in ways such as repairing broken cell phones and giving them to people who need them, or going on camp and working, unpaid, for DOC.  At first "classes" are informal and students work collectively but proceed at their own pace, while at senior secondary level there are more formal classes in academic subjects.
Students do not wear a school uniform, and they address their teachers by first names.  However cell phones are completely banned in class time. Discipline is informal, but students are encouraged to ask questions and as teachers have generally known their students for a long time there are few discipline problems.  Children with learning difficulties are not seen as problems but as being  "neuro-diverse". (Most state school teachers will have seen students with dyslexia written off as slow or even disruptive, yet those same students later prove to have exceptional talents - Ed).  Ava feels the system can work well only in a smaller school where there is more of the personal touch.  This can produce problems at the senior level where some subjects would have only a small number of students, but fortunately the school board is very supportive and will find the funds to make these small classes possible.