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NZEI teachers and principals will feature in a new book, Education and Poverty from Dunmore Press. But while these educators do an amazing job in militating the effects of poverty, they are no solution to a systemic problem. This exclusive extract looks at what happens inside Victory Square Kindergarten.

At Victory Square Kindergarten the effects of poverty are evident on rainy days: children who don’t have raincoats don’t come.

As well as children from families struggling with low income, the kindergarten has a relatively high proportion of former refugee families so children have English as a second language. “Some of our parents have low literacy skills and it’s not uncommon for our families to have few if any books in the home,” says teacher Virginia Oakly. “Children can be anxious and hyper-vigilant, and may need a lot of help with social skills.”

Health problems, such as hearing loss or chronic conditions related to poor diet, are also common. “It’s hard for parents to get on top of the likes of eczema, which causes poor sleep; there isn’t the money to get treatment. Some families have outstanding bills at the doctor’s so they avoid going and this leads to severe sickness and complications. We have had parents who have been quite sick or in severe pain with toothache but they can’t afford treatment.”

Like the nearby Victory School, with its successful “services hub” approach, the kindergarten offers families a range of services and programmes. A family support worker is based at the kindergarten, a whanau room is available for parents and various courses are on offer, such as first aid. One recent success was an Incredible Years parenting course conducted with translators so parents could more fully understand the material.

There’s also a strong “home” feel”- with plenty of pets so children can learn about caring. Three “story grans and grandads” come in every week to read stories to the children. “We have a language rich environment” and the children just lap it up,’ says Oakly. Victory Square recently joined the enviro-schools programme to give children and parents a chance to be in a garden.

“We put our hearts and souls into our work” our families would know if we weren’t genuine. We are passionate about this community.” For some children, the only birthday party they will have is at kindergarten” “and we are responsive to that. There will be treats and lots of hugs” there is a huge need for this from our tamariki.”

Teachers also have high expectations of children” “they deserve to be thought of as being able to achieve and, given the groundwork, they can achieve.”

The kindergarten appreciates its local Nelson Kindergarten Association. Staff estimate that about half of the children require some sort of special needs education, and say that often these needs aren’t formally recognised. “Our association is great at giving us extra support as often as possible. Our family support worker helps families access assessments as well. The biggest challenge can be getting parents to access the support.”

This makes another advantage supplied by the association so important. “We have zero fees” this has been massive for our families, with most increasing their hours beyond the 20. It helps families look for work and have a break. We have strong attendance from our families on trips and excursions” these are a big deal and the costs are paid for by us.

“It has also meant that some of our more at-risk tamariki are in a safe, supportive environment more of the time and that is fantastic.”

Education and Poverty, edited by Dr Vicki Carpenter from the University of Auckland, will be published in late August. For more information email: books@dunmore.co.nz. The book features teachers and principals from Parklands School, Motueka; Kaiti School and Awapuni School, Gisborne; Kaitaia Primary School, Northland; Dawson Primary School, Otara; Finlayson Park School, Manurewa; and Bishopdale School, Christchurch.