Supporting Student Transitions – John Paul College, Rotorua

John Paul College is a State Integrated Catholic School based in Rotorua with students from Year 7 to 15. The school is one of three De La Salle colleges in New Zealand based on the vision of Saint John Baptist De La Salle to establish schools for the poor and marginalised in France over three hundred and sixty years ago.

Learning vision and school ethos

The Lasallian Mission is clearly reflected in the programme at John Paul College, providing a strong base for the delivery of activities that support all students to have the skills and abilities to be successful in their post school endeavours.

This journey begins when the student arrives in Year 7 and the curriculum is designed to support all students reaching their potential. All students have Religious Studies as part of their study programme and in senior years this can either be an academic-based course or undertaken through a ‘Faith in Action’ community volunteering project. There is an expectation of service to the school and the community inherent in the school philosophy.

Getting the ‘little things’ right

From a teaching and learning perspective, John Paul College is continually looking for ways to improve outcomes for their students and this is reflected in the school being a finalist in the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards.

John Paul College. In 2016 the School was recognised for increasing the engagement and achievement for their Year 7 Science students by including rich opportunities for real-life experiences in class and alongside science professionals in the wider Rotorua community. 

John Paul College also received recognition in 2018 for establishing a strong learning support centre providing an inclusive programme and wrap-around services for the students involved. Staff made getting to know each student a priority, in order to create tailored learning pathways for each and every student. This resulted in a significant rise in student achievement levels across the school.Principal Patrick Walsh commented that the school works on getting the “little things” right so they don’t become “big things”. 

Career and post-school support and funding

Through the Career Department, John Paul College has been delivering their own ‘Toolkit’ to ensure that students are prepared for life after school. The staff delivering career and transition education have the support of the Principal, and the importance of communication between teachers and different areas of the school is emphasised.

There is strong leadership from Shery Hewitson, Career Advisor, who liaises with school management and other teachers with in the school. She also has well-developed links with other education providers, employers and community groups. They are responsible for ensuring the Careers Information Grant (CIG), part of the schools operating grant, is used to provide career related services and support for students.

The Career Advisor also has Management Units, one from Gateway funding and one from STAR, that help facilitate a ‘joined-up’ approach to programme delivery in the career and transition area. 

Working as a team

One of the strengths of the programme at John Paul College is the ability of teachers to work together to achieve the best outcomes for individual students. The career staff are part of a teaching team that covers Literacy and Numeracy, Maths, Life Skills classes, adventure based learning, Food and Nutrition, Metal and Wood Technology, Faith in Action classes, and the Learning Support Centre and SENCO activities. This reflects the importance of having a team approach to ensure individual students receive the support they need to achieve to the best of their ability and have a smooth transition from school to out of school.

Getting ready to leave school

The Deans, Principal, and Career Advisor interview every Year 13 student at the start of Term One. The school then prepares all students’ academic testimonials so they are available as needed throughout the year. These are updated as the year progresses.

For Year 12 and 13 students, the school focuses on completing their credits in the first half of the year (using internal assessment) so they are able to go into the workforce from July. This aims to ensure student have completed their NCEA requirements before leaving school for employment, apprenticeship, or other training options.

Success through a flexible timetable

The timetable is structured so that every subject occurs four days per week, making it easier for students who participate in programmes like Gateway and Trades Academies to keep-up with their in-school studies.

In Year 11, students identified as being at risk of not achieving literacy or numeracy are timetabled into LIN classes which involve two extra English classes and two extra Maths classes a week. To fit this into their timetable they need to drop an option, but get credits through these classes. The type of standards used (unit or achievement) is flexible and negotiated with each student individually in terms of the pathway they want to follow. 

There is a careers programme run for four periods a week for Years 12 and 13 who are following a more vocational programme which focuses on Employment skills, problem-solving and building resilience. This time can be used flexibly, e.g. students who attend Trades Academies or Gateway can use the time to catch up on subject classes they have missed if necessary. The careers classes also provide a safe space for students to explore their post-school options and address life skill areas like financial literacy. Students who are in the careers programme are also encouraged to do a Gateway placement.

Transition programme

John Paul College has a transitions programme which is designed to support the less academic students. The Career Advisor attends regular pastoral meetings with the Deans where students who may be good candidates for the transitions programme are identified. Having the pastoral care and transitions programmes supported by strong cross-school communication is a key to positive student outcomes. 

An important feature of the transitions programme is the reduced number of subject credits required by students who are achieving credits through a Trades Academy or Gateway placement. Subject teachers feel more comfortable about students missing classes to attend Trades Academy or Gateway when the number of credits required are reduced. As a qualified teacher, the Career Advisor is able to talk the subject teachers through this and maintain their confidence in the programme.

Teachers in areas like Food and Nutrition, Metal and Wood Technology and Tourism have adjusted the programme of learning offered and also the expected number of credits that a student needs to obtain during that year. This structure has resulted in new ways of working for both teachers and students. It has required teachers to personalise their programme more and make use of tools such as Google classroom and a buddy system. (Students have a “buddy” in class who can help them out, this keeps them connected to the classroom). For the students, they have had to become more independent learners.

Gateway programme

John Paul College has a strong Gateway programme which is used to enable students to try out different work options, with the school currently funded for 69 places. The programme is available to students in Years 11, 12 and 13, with parental involvement required for Year 11 students. Because of the wide range of employers the College engages with, many of them small to medium enterprises, the generic Health and Safety standards are often used to meet the 20 credit Gateway requirement.

Many employers engage in the Gateway programme as part of a ‘social justice’ approach and have worked with the school for up to twenty years. Feedback from employers is that they value John Paul College students for their reliability, good attitude, punctuality and initiative. At present John Paul College is trialling a programme where engaged employers work with students who are not engaged or at risk of not achieving.

Workplace skills

Students at the school also have the opportunity to attend Trade Academy at Toi Ohomai with one and two day options available. The focus of these courses is about obtaining work place skills as opposed to gaining credits. There are a wide range of options available to suit a student’s chosen pathway.

Citizenship or Civics Involvement

The ethos of the College supports activities that provide students with a range of opportunities to demonstrate citizenship.

“Enter to Learn – Leave to Serve”

In addition to general service in the Parish Community students are encouraged to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and Young Leaders Forum. The Faith in Action programme supports the:

  • Rotorua Whakaora – Food distribution for Local Communities
  • Sunset Breakfast Club – Students help with Breakfast Club at local Primary School
  • Winter Warmer – Bedding and warm clothing collected for Local Community
  • Kai Rotorua – Community Gardens and food sustainability.

Wider school relationships

There are strong whānau and community support networks in John Paul College and regular contact with specific student parent groups. Catholic mass is a great way for school staff to connect with parents and whānau. The College is involved with Rangitahi Futures and takes a group of students to Polyfest each year. In addition, the Career Advisor also represents the College on many committees and this helps to maintain good relationships with the wider community.

The school runs a whānau group for Māori families who meet twice a term to discuss ways in which whānau can support their tamariki to achieve. The focus of these groups is on Māori achieving as Māori. Parents and whānau also have an opportunity, through these groups, to feed back to the school on what they would like to see introduced or changed at John Paul College.

Pacific fono groups meet once a term with these being described as “more low-key” than the whānau groups. The school uses mass to build strong and trusting relationships, especially with Pacific families.

Another key group in the College is Signum Fidae, a group of La Sallian teachers who want to provide extra support for students, especially Māori and Pacific students. This group is currently made up of 12 to13 teachers who meet twice a term.

Future plans

Areas that the school would like to improve on going forward are:

  • developing a career education programme with the Year 9 students. This would occur alongside integrating more contextualised learning experiences into the curriculum for Years 9 to 11
  • exploring how to better integrate school subjects with Gateway and Trades Academy programmes of learning
  • increasing the number of exploratory opportunities students have, e.g. Roadshows and increased employer contacts to increase the students’ knowledge of future opportunities.