Finlayson Park and Clendon Park – Schools

On August 8th, I wrote about a presentation I attended where I learned about Finlayson Park School in Manurewa, Aukland.

On August 13th and 14th, I was privileged to be able to go and observe Finlayson Park School and was also able to see Clendon Park School. These two schools are integrating the first languages of their students in the classrooms and are providing education that is allowing them to succeed.

While I was at these schools, I have never seen kids so proud of themselves, proud of their culture and proud of their languages – it was absolutely beautiful to see!

Students took pride in their learning and were eager to read and write. They shared their work eagerly and were not shy in striking up a conversation with you. In all of the classrooms I visited, I would say that culturally responsive teaching and learning was taking place primarily though having language in the classroom. I think that with the language comes the culture. At Clendon Park school, they had a Maori Bilingual Unit and here, the students had a special room where they would go each morning for prayers and to learn about their culture. It was a sacred place and one of importance. I found out that here, all students at the school, even in other language units were learning Maori and that all of the students – the boys were learning the Haka and the girls were also learning a dance. I enjoyed watching the boys learn to dance – they were proud of their culture. I wish students in Saskatchewan had more of an opportunity to learn the First Nation culture and that schools were more inclusive and culturally responsive in terms of drawing on students funds of knowledge, integrating what they know already and that we did more than the minimum of the Saskatchewan curriculum mandate when teaching about the treaties and the past of the First Nations people. In the whole of our province, there are maybe 3 bilingual programs that offer Cree to the students in public schools.

At Finlayson Park School – I was able to observe Samoan bilingual students in years 5-8 giving speech presentations. The presented in Samoan a few days ago and then gave speeches in English. The students memorized their speeches and talked with expression. They told compelling and personal stories and I saw that they students do understand the type of situations they are living in – poverty, bullying, drugs and alcohol and yet they chose to talk about this. It was emotional listening to the kids at times. I did like how the teacher gave positive feedback to the students when they finished their presentation and that the teacher showed she cared and was grateful.

At all of the classrooms, I felt the sense of teacher and student relationships that were strong and were built on trust. The students respected their teacher and the teacher respected their students.

In general the classrooms were similar to those in Saskatchewan – they were warm and inviting, had desks in pods or groups, displayed student work and had posters. Some differences were that each language unit had their own potable classroom areas and some were connected. There were no hallways, the doors and windows in the rooms were open and they used natural light more in some rooms that they did turn on the lights. Some of the rooms seemed to have too much student work on display and I found this to be a bit distracting. However all rooms had reading areas and an area of carpet at the front of the room where students would gather for lessons before they went to work in their desks. Each room also had computers and one room that I had was paperless, all of the students work and learning was through the use of laptops of i-pad’s.

After school sports programs, homework support and programs that fostered self-esteem and relationships were being implemented and snacks were provided through out the day for students.

Of the lessons I saw, they were direct, whole group instruction and I also saw guided reading programs. Some of the reading groups were above age level and some groups were below it. While one group was with the teacher, the other three groups of students were working independently on tasks or they were reading. They were very organized programs. For each assignment, students would write “walt” on their pages, which stands for “we are learning to…” and also they would have success criteria which would help them achieve “walt”. This was done for every lesson and the teachers helped the students determine the statements. I really liked this and found that it helped students understand why they were learning or doing a certain task or information.

Every time I was introduced to classes and teachers, it was: “This is teacher Cynthia, from Canada”. Then the eyes of most of the students would go wide and after a moment or two, I would be asked if I knew Justin Bieber – I found this quite hilarious. I was also able to talk to a class who was learning about Canada and was able to answer their questions. The biggest surprise to the students was our seasons, our school year and our currency.

Over all, I was pleased with my visit to Finlayson Park School and Clendon Park School. It was a positive learning experience where I saw many great things happening and was inspired to what I will be able to do as a classroom teacher. They have many good things going on in these schools, but there needs to be more schools like this, not only in New Zealand, but especially in Canada. The staff were welcoming and were not shy in sharing practices and they opened up their classroom and shared their students with me.

New Zealand has made progress with it’s inclusion of Maori people and it is not “the Maori people and the White people” it is everyone together. I talked with a teacher who told me it had been a long struggle to get to where they are today, but it is getting better. I was told of a lost generation where the grandparents spoke Maori, but their children didn’t. These children did not pass down the language to the grandchildren and if the grandchildren wanted to be able to talk to their grandparents in Maori, they had to make the decision to go to school to pay someone to teach them their own culture’s language. I found this truly heartbreaking – that they had to pay someone to teach them their own language. I was proud however that bilingual schools are making progress – allowing for the languages of students to be used in the classroom and for the students to be educated about their culture.

These schools, their staff, their community and students are truly remarkable and inspirational.



New Beginning

When I was leaving New Zealand from the airport, I purchased a Maori Koru – a spiral necklace which symbolizes a new beginning.

Reflecting on things thus far and from the experiences I have had on this trip,

I know that it’s time for a new beginning …



On the last day before I left NZ, I hoped on a bus and spent the day out at Waitomo. While there I visited three different caves, took lots of pictures and ended up hanging out with a girl from Chile who went to the same tours that I did. It was a great day and if you ever have the chance, you should check out Waitomo.

Waitomo Glow Worm Cave:

This was the first cave I went into. When you first enter, there are lots of low passages. All three of the caves have limestone formations in them, as well as stalagmites and stalactites. This cave did not have too many stalagmites and stalacties in the main part of the cave, but they could be seen. In one area of the cave, they called it the Cathedral because of the height of the cave from the floor, it resembled a cathedral. In the formations of the stones, you could see a pipe organ, an elephant and a bungee jumping Kiwi bird. The tour guide told us that many concerts had been performed in the cave due to its great acoustics and she even sang a little song for us – it was beautiful. then we went to see the glow worms, and unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures in this cave. There were thousands of glow worms on the cave ceiling. We learned that glow worms are really tiny and they basically sit on the ceilings and drop down silk threads to catch insects. The insects get stuck in the silk and then they are eaten. A glow worm lives for about 9 months and then goes into a cocoon to transform into almost like a moth or fly, where it has no mouth and its sole purpose is to reproduce before it dies. The brightness of the glow worm indicates its age – brighter means older and also they shine their light when they want to attract food. There were so many glow worms, they looked like stars. We were in a boat to see the worms but because the water had risen 5 metres because of all the rain, we did not get to see the whole part of the tour that was meant to be on the boat. It was amazing though.

Ruakuri Cave:

This cave was the next one I visited. It was very cold in the cave because it was so far down from ground level. This cave had glowworms and thousands of beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. If you are only going to go to one cave while at Waitomo, this would be the one to see because it combines the Glow Worm Cave and the Aranui Cave.


Aranui Cave:

This was the last cave I visited and it was probably the one I liked the most. It was probably the smallest cave and you hade to walk into the forest area to enter the cave. It was filled completely with stalactites and stalagmites and had great lighting and many levels we walked up to. Each of the caves had monitors to monitor the amount of CO2 coming into them because over time, high levels can cause damage to the caves and you weren’t allowed to touch anything because the oils on your hands left black marks on the limestone and there was a $10,000 fine.


They also had black water rafting – but I opted to stay dry during my time there. I did get dripped on in the caves though because of all the rain they had days before I visited. The tour guides were very knowledgable and made the tours interesting and they had a good sense of humour. The staff here were very helpful and even gave me a ride to the last cave because it was like a 15 minute walk and I didn’t have a car.

It was a great way to spend my last day in New Zealand and is a must do! More pictures will be on my Flickr page soon!



While I was in New Zealand I learned to cook. I would say that cooking is one area where I lack knowledge and skills and I would rather go and buy a burger (or get one from work) than I would cook a meal. I knew the basics like pasta and soup and I could make a sandwich and pizza and could barbecue but cooking was not something I did a lot of.

While in New Zealand I learned to cook:

  • Steak
  • Chicken
  • Corned Beef
  • Pumpkin soup
  • Salads
  • Fruit salads
  • Lamb – although I didn’t actually cook lamb
  • Omelette – some type that I don’t know the name of


It was a great learning experience and I wish I had taken some pictures and that I had written down the recipes. I don’t know if I’ll cook every night now that I am back in Canada and am still living at home but I am definitely going to stop eating fast food everyday!


Hamilton Gardens

Today we walked from the University of Waikato to the Hamilton Gardens and then back to the University – it was a good 6 km walk.

The gardens have 5 collections:

  1. Paradise Collection
  2. Productive Collection
  3. Fantasy Collection
  4. Cultivar Collection
  5. Landscape Collection


Within each collection, there are a collection of gardens. Today we went to Paradise Collection and walked around the Chinese Scholars garden, the English Flower garden, the Japanese Garden of Contemplation, the American Modernist Garden, the Italian Renaissance Garden and the Indian Char Bagh garden. It was a beautiful walk and the sights were peaceful and relaxing.


I enjoyed the large collection of bamboo in the Chinese garden, the tranquility of the Japanese garden, and the architecture of the Indian Char Bagh garden. The American Modernist garden had a picture of Marilyn Monroe and a small pond it – I didn’t understand why there was a picture of Marilyn though.



We also saw the Productive Collection and walked around the Kitchen Garden, the Sustainable backyard, the Herb garden and Te Parapara. It was great to see fruits and vegetables being grown. I enjoyed the Te Parapara area which showed you some of the Maori culture.

The Hamilton Gardens is a large space with lots of walking trails and many gardens that we did not see. I would recommend going here if you are ever in Hamilton, NZ.