Mothering the mothers

Jo and her team help girls learn vital life skills through what can be a difficult time.

Jo and her team help girls learn vital life skills through what can be a difficult time.

Jo Ashwell
Jo with some of her young mothers: Te Whare Whai Hua-Monique Harema and baby Autumn Hayz, Shayna Huhu, Talia Frost-Piahana, Jo Ashwell, Karnisha Waru and baby Ataahua Haenga, Stella Maru.

“Firm but fair” is what’s needed to be a good mother, and firm but fair is what you get with “Aunty Jo” Ashwell, manager of Lytton High’s young parent unit, Te Whare Whai Hua.

Overseeing as many as 30 young mums, Jo and her team help the girls continue their schooling, learn vital life skills and grow through what can be a really difficult time, while care for their children is provided onsite.

Instigated in 2001 by Jo with fellow (then) educators and youth workers Christine Taare, Manu Caddie and Lytton High School’s Paul Smith, the crew now includes two full-time teachers, an onsite social worker plus a team of part-time teaching staff and facilitators.

Very young babies stay with their mums in the classroom before joining older children in the early learning centre, while the girls complete their studies. Teachers are onsite to assist learning, which also covers life skills such as budgeting, nutrition and computer skills.

“We also have a compulsory parenting programme, which Meredith Akuhuta-Brown runs,” says Aunty Jo.

“We really value the girls’ ability as young parents. As far as we’re concerned you nurture the parenting skills and everything else falls into place — including education.”

Jointly funded by charitable trust Te Aka Ora and Lytton High, the centre is for students under 19 — although if someone is slightly older, and determined to learn, they’re generally accepted, says Aunty Jo.

“We’re about supporting their efforts to get a better education for themselves and for their families.”

It’s not all about education, though, and it’s easy to see how Aunty Jo earned her nickname.

“The girls have so much on their plate and it can be a really brave move to come here. It’s an admirable thing, to want to do better for yourself and your child, so we do everything we can to support them.

“Sometimes there are tears — it can be about things like boyfriends, money, living situations, relationship breakdowns with their parents. I have an open-door policy and everyone is welcome.”

That feeling flows through the centre, according to English teacher Miriam Thomas.

“It’s really cool, it’s just like a big whanau. You just feel welcome and comfortable and relaxed. Everybody has a place and everybody interacts with each other. We all gel, everybody’s equal.”

An inclusive job

With classrooms and childcare facilities sharing premises, staff from both units work closely with each other and the young families. Sam Tiepa, early childhood and learning centre manager, loves her job because it is so inclusive, she says.

“I love working with our young mamas and tamariki and giving them the opportunity to further their education and to care for their tamariki.

“When they come in they can be quite shy, when they go they are full of confidence, and really competent in what they do - it’s just awesome to see.”

Education centre manager “Aunty Jo” agrees.

“The most rewarding thing is seeing a mother spending more time with her child, learning new skills to engage with her child.

“Some of the girls have been through some rough times and they lack confidence in their own abilities, so seeing them start to flourish is really rewarding. They suddenly become this other person who is interested in her life and her future. We set goals with the girls and keep them focused, so we are seeing a huge improvement in their self-esteem. For me it’s about the transformation from the inside out.”

“Firm but fair” is what’s needed to be a good mother, and firm but fair is what you get with “Aunty Jo” Ashwell, manager of Lytton High’s young parent unit, Te Whare Whai Hua.

Overseeing as many as 30 young mums, Jo and her team help the girls continue their schooling, learn vital life skills and grow through what can be a really difficult time, while care for their children is provided onsite.

Instigated in 2001 by Jo with fellow (then) educators and youth workers Christine Taare, Manu Caddie and Lytton High School’s Paul Smith, the crew now includes two full-time teachers, an onsite social worker plus a team of part-time teaching staff and facilitators.

Very young babies stay with their mums in the classroom before joining older children in the early learning centre, while the girls complete their studies. Teachers are onsite to assist learning, which also covers life skills such as budgeting, nutrition and computer skills.

“We also have a compulsory parenting programme, which Meredith Akuhuta-Brown runs,” says Aunty Jo.

“We really value the girls’ ability as young parents. As far as we’re concerned you nurture the parenting skills and everything else falls into place — including education.”

Jointly funded by charitable trust Te Aka Ora and Lytton High, the centre is for students under 19 — although if someone is slightly older, and determined to learn, they’re generally accepted, says Aunty Jo.

“We’re about supporting their efforts to get a better education for themselves and for their families.”

It’s not all about education, though, and it’s easy to see how Aunty Jo earned her nickname.

“The girls have so much on their plate and it can be a really brave move to come here. It’s an admirable thing, to want to do better for yourself and your child, so we do everything we can to support them.

“Sometimes there are tears — it can be about things like boyfriends, money, living situations, relationship breakdowns with their parents. I have an open-door policy and everyone is welcome.”

That feeling flows through the centre, according to English teacher Miriam Thomas.

“It’s really cool, it’s just like a big whanau. You just feel welcome and comfortable and relaxed. Everybody has a place and everybody interacts with each other. We all gel, everybody’s equal.”

An inclusive job

With classrooms and childcare facilities sharing premises, staff from both units work closely with each other and the young families. Sam Tiepa, early childhood and learning centre manager, loves her job because it is so inclusive, she says.

“I love working with our young mamas and tamariki and giving them the opportunity to further their education and to care for their tamariki.

“When they come in they can be quite shy, when they go they are full of confidence, and really competent in what they do - it’s just awesome to see.”

Education centre manager “Aunty Jo” agrees.

“The most rewarding thing is seeing a mother spending more time with her child, learning new skills to engage with her child.

“Some of the girls have been through some rough times and they lack confidence in their own abilities, so seeing them start to flourish is really rewarding. They suddenly become this other person who is interested in her life and her future. We set goals with the girls and keep them focused, so we are seeing a huge improvement in their self-esteem. For me it’s about the transformation from the inside out.”

Her son as motivation

Kapa Hueura is a vibrant, happy mum who dotes over her three year old son, Ihaka. After leaving school at year nine with no qualifications, she is now the proud holder of her NCEA level 1 certificate and is half way to achieving her level 2s. Kapa plans to continue her education after graduation with further tiertary study.

A self confessed former “naughty girl”, starting at Te Whare Whai Hua was a big step, she says.

“When I started here I was scared to meet new people and felt terrible coming in without any qualifications. But it was awesome, they made me feel part of the family. Really good communication, they’d all talk to me even though I was too shy to talk at first.”

Her young son was the motivation, she says.

“I wanted to carry on with my education to make a better future for him. Now I want to be a youth social worker. I want to help young people.”

Early childcare and education teacher Lynn Poole is really impressed with Kapa’s achievements.

“And her personality has come out, she is a lot more involved in the planning for her baby. She has a lot more confidence than she when she started.

“Kapa’s son’s lunchbox won the award last term for healthiest lunchbox,” says Lynn. “Now she just has to work on her own lunchbox.”

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interested observer - 2 years ago
Helping and understanding begins with your whanau does it not? And with an open, non-judgemental view!!!!

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