Athletes guiding pupils

Sara Cohen School teacher’s aides (back from left) Willie Tufui, Bruce Kauika-Peterson, Holly...
Sara Cohen School teacher’s aides (back from left) Willie Tufui, Bruce Kauika-Peterson, Holly Robinson, Tevita Pole and Viliami Fine help pupils (front from left) Russel Morris (15), Polly Lublow-Catty (16) and Cody Hoogenraad (19) learn life lessons.PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
Pupils at Sara Cohen School are being guided by some of the most gifted athletes in the country.

The Dunedin school for pupils with special learning needs has an impressive line- up of sporting talent who take time away from their sporting calendar to work as teacher aides at the Caversham school.

Harbour Rugby Club hooker Bruce Kauika-Petersen, forward Tevita Pole, winger Viliami Fine, midfielder Willie Tufui and Paralympic Games javelin athlete Holly Robinson are some of the athletes who have been working at the school.

Principal Matthew Tofia said the athletes helped provide the pupils with "lots of life skills".

"They go on lots of trips, which are focused on being in the community."

This enabled pupils to engage in everyday activities, from shopping to swimming, as well as expanding their social interaction.

"It is fantastic having all of these young athletes. The way these guys have come in and worked with our kids has been really good."

The school had about 50 children and, with about 55 staff, had a very high pupil- teacher ratio.

"We really do focus on trying to keep the kids emotionally regulated," Mr Tofia said.

Learning took place at Sara Cohen School and at satellite classes run from other schools.

Many of the children had both intellectual and physical disabilities.

Having "young sporty people" who were out playing at intervals and lunch times with the pupils "really livens up the place", Mr Tofia said.

Holly Robinson started working as a teacher’s aide at the school last year and has a passion for working with children.

‘‘I just love helping them to learn in this environment - they are great kids, awesome kids.’’

The school had been supportive of the athletes, helping accommodate their sporting ambitions.

She would be travelling to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games soon.
  
‘‘I am heading away soon for Tokyo and they have been great with supporting that and it is also cool to share my journey with the kids,’’ she said.

Willie Tufui, Viliami Fine and Bruce Kauika-Petersen moved from Wellington to Dunedin at the beginning of the year, with an eye on making the Otago Rugby team.

Mr Kauika-Petersen said they joined Harbour Rugby Club, and accepted principal Matthew Tofia’s offer of work as teacher aides at the beginning of the year.

"Matt is a Harbour supporter, so he supports the boys when he can and just gave us an opportunity, gave us some work so we could live.’’

‘‘So we got into this, and just fell in love with it, really,’’ Mr Kauika-Petersen said.

New school

Work on new facilities for Sara Cohen School in Riselaw Rd is on track.

Ministry education infrastructure service head Kim Shannon said detailed design of the new facilities for Sara Cohen School were progressing.

‘‘We anticipate going to the market to appoint a construction contractor at the end of the year. Construction is likely to start towards the middle of 2022, and we expect it will be completed in 2023.’’

Principal Matthew Tofia said construction of an entirely new school would mean no disruption for the pupils.

‘‘The beauty of that is we will walk out of this old school and walk into the new school.’’

simon.henderson@thestar.co.nz

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