Kirikowhai Gray-Wharakura is a Hamilton Pools success story.
The 18-year-old was recently appointed to a part-time role as a Learn to Swim teacher, following a stint with the pools as a student on a Gateway work placement programme through Hamilton’s Fraser High School. The programme combines with the Youth Education Swim Teacher Award and Youth Education Lifeguard and Leadership programme, and allows the students involved the chance to earn 40 NCEA credits.
The quietly spoken Tainui teenager is from Ngaruawahia, and became involved in the programme in 2018.
“I really like swimming, so I have a lot of background with that,” she says. “I swam with the Huntly Swimming Club, and I’ve also done waka ama – so I love being around the water.
“Teaching kids is something I thought I could be pretty good at it… so I thought I’d give it a go, at least.”
Kirikowhai says making the transition from being a student to a teacher was a challenge: “This is my first job, so I was bit overwhelmed! But I got used to it.”
She spent the first few weeks shadowing an experienced teacher, spending about six hours a week at the complex.
After her initial work placement programme, she now works about 12 hours a week – but she concedes to experiencing nervousness about potentially making a mistake as she learnt and began taking classes.
“I didn’t want something to go wrong with the kids,” she laughs. “It was all a bit scary!”
Kirikowhai says the support and help of the more experienced Learn To Swim teachers, and structured lesson plans, made her transition from student to tutor much easier.
Her teaching started with small groups of children aged between three and six – although as the oldest sibling in her family, Kirikowhai came armed with experience of looking after little people.
“For me it was about trying to get a bond with them – it helps them actually do the stuff you’re trying to teach them.”
Kirikowhai’s “graduated” up to teaching older students and is enjoying seeing the progress and confidence of the students she teachers. She aspires to be able to teach adults through the Learn to Swim programme in future.
Christine Hunger, Hamilton Pools Learn to Swim Co-ordinator, says Kirikowhai needn’t have worried about taking the step up to teaching. Kirikowhai has proven to be a natural teacher in the water, with a warm and reassuring approach to helping the children with their technique, confidence and safety in the water.
“I often say to our Learn to Swim teachers ‘you have no idea of how important you are to the students’,” Christine says. “We’re teaching them fundamental swimming skills, for life, and that’s really rewarding.”
Fraser High School Principal Virginia Crawford says the work experience programme has been invaluable to students like Kirikowhai, who is in a vocational pathway that she feels strongly connected to, and the experience afforded to her has been enjoyable, as well as packed with a lot of learning in the workplace.
“Fraser appreciates the connection between the School and Hamilton Pools, that provides placements for Fraser’s students to strengthen and continue their learning outside the classroom,” she says.
“The programme offers an opportunity for students to gain NCEA credits at Level 3, while gaining worthwhile job experience. Learners on the course build skills around communication, water safety, collaboration, working with members of the public.”
Since the relationship between Fraser and Hamilton Pools began five years ago, several Fraser students have been employed or continue to be employed at Hamilton Pools.