Meet the team: Isabella Dilworth Lodge ‘House Parents’ Sarah and Sione

Date: 19 Jul 2023

The newly re-opened Child Wise accredited Isabella Dilworth Lodge is a purpose-built, eight-bedroom home located at Dilworth Junior Campus in Remuera. It provides safe, supportive and wraparound short-term care for Dilworth students facing circumstances that impact their well-being.

The Lodge is run by house parents Dr Sarah Kapeli Finau, a psychology lecturer at the University of Auckland, and Sione Finau, Tongan language and culture teacher and a Dilworth old boy. Sarah and Sione live full-time at the lodge along with their two children, Taven and Jude.

What is the purpose of the Lodge?
Sione: Boarding can be a great experience, but what do you do when it gets hard? The Lodge provides extra wraparound support and a home environment for students who just need some time to reset and refocus. We’ve had students come here that couldn’t go home in the school holidays; who are having a difficult time with their family; or who just need a break from life in a boarding house.

Sarah: Coming here removes the noise of boarding and allows students to navigate their challenges at a slower pace. It’s less structured here – providing more of a homely or family environment.

What attracted you to the role of House Parents?
Sarah: We started as house parents in June 2021. We are passionate about serving our family and community and we saw this as another opportunity to serve. With our combined skillsets and experience in pastoral care, we knew we could positively serve Dilworth students and the wider Dilworth community. With my background in psychology and Sione being a teacher, an old boy and his boarding experience, we are in a unique position to support the boy's when they are navigating tough times.

What’s a typical day at the Lodge?
Sione: When students arrive for the first time, we take them on a tour around the house. Often their parents or caregivers will join, which helps everyone feel at ease. On a typical day, a student will walk from school to the Lodge once after-school activities have finished. They are welcomed into a relaxed and homely environment and then take ownership of completing their prep or having downtime. We have dinner together where we all catch up and see how the day has gone and the students will lead the clean-up after dinner.

Sometimes we have movie, game, or gym nights before the students settle in for the night and lights out. Then, in the morning, they wake up and have breakfast before walking to school. If for some reason a student is unable to walk to school, maybe it’s raining, we drop them off.

What are the main benefits of the Lodge for students?
We get to know each student who walks through the door and understand their stories. If a teacher notices that a student is tired in class, for example, we might learn at the Lodge that it’s because they have a full-on family life and that they’re working full-time when they go home at the weekends – this may mean they are not only physically, but emotionally fatigued too.

We are often able to help them peel back layers so that we can better understand how to support them. We can then feed that through to the wider pastoral team so we can offer the best support possible.

How does the Lodge support Dilworth’s wider pastoral care offering?
Sarah: When students come here they remain fully supported by the wider pastoral team, whether that’s through the Head of their campus, the School Counsellor, the Psychologist, the Year level Dean, or their House Leader. Everyone works together.

For example, we may receive updates from the student’s Year level Dean about how they’re going in class, then we would take the time to talk to them about what’s happening and how we can best support them. This may include helping them to develop strategies to use when they’re feeling overwhelmed or distracted.

How do students adjust to the Lodge after boarding?
Sione: We’ve had students who’ve been boarding at the school for several years, so they haven’t been on their own or had space that whole time. Being here is a huge relief. Something as simple as having their own room, their own bed, their own door – it’s a different world after boarding and provides an important break.

It’s important that family and whānau know that their young man is in safe hands. Fostering a good relationship contributes to the well-being of our students as it can help strengthen their support network outside of school as well.

What’s the best thing about the role?
Sione: I love being able to cook, and seeing our students enjoy the food is a highlight. Being able to interact with the parents or caregivers and making them feel comfortable, too. Once they feel comfortable, we can build trust. We come from a Tongan background, and some of the parents we meet aren’t confident in English, so being able to talk to them in Tongan helps them understand what we’re all about.

Do you have any particular highlights of your time in the role?
Sione: We had a student here who was on the verge of leaving school. He came to the Lodge and, we wrapped around him with love, compassion, and support. The student said that his experience at the Lodge saved him from leaving Dilworth. This speaks to the positive impact of the Lodge and the environment we foster. We are very blessed to be in this space.