Te Haerenga - "The Journey" for Year 9 boys at Dilworth Rural Campus

In 2012, Dilworth opened its Rural Campus for Year 9 boys, as a transition year between their time at the Junior Campus and Senior Campus. Everything from the curriculum through to the pastoral care at the Rural Campus, focuses on the holistic development of the boy as he enters his early teenage years. For this reason, the learning environment is incredibly unique and Head of Campus at Dilworth Rural Campus, John Rice has seen first-hand the transformative effects of this distinctive approach to educating young teenage boys.


He likens the year at the Rural Campus to a journey in a waka. The name of the campus, Te Haerenga, quite literally translates to “the journey”. “In term one, the waka is sitting at the water’s edge and the boys are learning how to be in the canoe in our community. At this point in their journey, there’s lots of teaching and coaching so that they know what to do” says Rice. “As the year goes on and the boys become more able, we enter the second phase where we’re casting off, and this gives the boys a chance to explore a little more and we give them a bit of independence. Throughout the year the staff give the boys more and more ownership so that by the end, they are able to demonstrate leadership and independence when suitable opportunities arise. Boys are now more aware of their strengths and abilities and how those can be used to benefit others and their waka is now more able to cope with the challenges of open water.


What makes the Rural Campus truly unique, however, is their approach to learning. “Our programme or curriculum at the Rural Campus has three strands which are intertwined to form a cord – academic, outdoor education and personal and social growth” says Rice. “Our academic strand is different because we have mastery classes that combine standard subjects into more meaningful, integrated learning opportunities that has boys working both inside and outside of the classroom. For example, they may be out measuring the flow of the river which relates to something they learnt in maths. They need to be taught how to apply their learning to the real world, not just as isolated theory.”


Outdoor education is a big part of the educational experience at the Rural Campus and is the second strand of learning. “Our boys go out for two days of outdoor education every second week. This is all about connecting the boys to place – learning to be outdoors and appreciating it so that they understand their place as protectors of the environment. They also learn about Maori and European history and we use the outdoors as a platform to learn more about who we are, where we come from and how we can move forward with understanding and appreciation as citizens with bi-cultural heritage. It’s also about building relational, emotional and soft skills such as perseverance and pushing through when things get difficult, which is something they can take with them long after they finish school.”


The final strand of learning (personal and social growth) is further enhanced through the live-in environment at Dilworth. Rice explains “the boys live in cabins and are allocated a cabin coach and given all sorts of basic responsibilities and skills to manage their home and their relationships with other boys and staff. Throughout the week they meet in their cabin groups and spend time working on a range of social and emotional skills such as conflict resolution, restorative practice, and good listening skills. It’s about navigating self and moods, learning to relate and connect with others and dealing with all sorts of circumstances. It equips the boys with 21st-century skills like resilience and emotional intelligence so that if something goes wrong in life, they know how they can work around it and resolve the problem.”


Rice describes the staff at the Rural Campus as more than just teachers – they are mentors and facilitators. “Sometimes we are out there teaching the boys but sometimes we take a back seat and ask the boys “what do you think?” or “what do you need to find out about this?”. It’s this idea of a shared learning journey with the teacher and putting the boy right at the centre of his learning. We make sure that each boy knows what his strengths are and what he needs to develop to take his learning to the next level.”


During his eight years as Head of the Rural Campus at Dilworth, Rice has seen considerable change in boys’ lives over the year they spend there, which is a truly rewarding experience. “When we first opened the Rural Campus, some parents were worried about how their boys would cope in this rural setting so far from the city lights, but it didn’t take long for them to realise the changes in their boys. The boys would come home, and they would put on a load of washing and make their beds without being asked. Or they would cook a nutritious meal or suggest how the family could make their diet a little healthier since the meals at the Rural Campus are free of refined sugar and carbohydrates.” Rice particularly remembers one comment made by a parent “I once had a boy who was quite overweight, and his mother had told me he was an indoor boy and was worried about how he was going to cope. He then went on to become one of the best runners and would spend his weekends at home running whenever he had spare time. It’s a classic example of how boys can sometimes put themselves into little boxes. For this boy, it was a complete change in mindset. It wasn’t that he wasn’t an outdoor boy, it’s just that he hadn’t had the opportunity to be an outdoor boy and now that he had, he loved it.”

January 14, 2020