Chch school starts week with party to boost attendance

Jeffrey Martin from the New Zealand Police gives a high five welcome to Year Four student Alfonso...
Jeffrey Martin from the New Zealand Police gives a high five welcome to Year Four student Alfonso Chiavone Faccio. Photo: RNZ
A Christchurch primary school is trying to make the start of the school week more like a party than a chore, in an attempt to boost school attendance.

School attendance rates are down across the country, with the Ministry of Education releasing figures last week showing only 47 percent of students went to school regularly in term two this year.

Christchurch's Shirley Primary School is trying something a bit different to buck that trend.

Since the beginning of term four, school staff and volunteers and local community group the Shirley Village Project have been injecting some pizzazz into the start of the first day of the school week. They set up speakers blasting music and balloon decorations, and an upbeat welcome crew give out free stickers.

Sometimes they even have special guests, which have so far included football players, police and St John Ambulance staff.

The students walking through the school gate on the day RNZ visited said the scheme was working, saying it made the day much more fun.

Year four student Alfonso Chiavone Faccio said he was particularly looking forward to the day they get to make use of the dunking machine.

The dunking machine was made by Steve Jones-Poole, a community development activator with Shirley Village Project and one of the instigators of the Monday morning fun.

"The dunking machine - it was a little idea we had. If we are getting kids coming along, what about we set a target?

"So we've set a target, and if there is enough kids at school in the morning, the class with the most kids at school that morning get to choose a teacher to dunk at lunchtime."

Jones-Poole said the teachers seem to be on board with the idea.

Principal Alistair Sim said that like many schools around the country Shirley Primary has not had consistently good attendance in recent years, with what he describes as a bit of an ongoing Covid hangover.

He said they had tried punitive measures to encourage attendance at school but that had not worked, so they were trying a different approach - some excitement at the school gate on a Monday morning as an incentive for children to get to school.

Jones-Poole said there were huge benefits from children attending school as often as they can, and not just for the children.

"Kids coming to school should be celebrated. It's an awesome thing that they and their parents are doing.

"Attendance isn't just a school or a Ministry of Education issue, or a parent issue - it's a community issue. So what can we as a community do to make it an awesome place to be? So this is what we do, we come and celebrate."

So each Monday morning Jones-Poole sets up the dunking machine and the children hone their skill at hitting the target. And one day soon they hope the numbers will mean they get the delight of seeing a bucket of water empty right on top of their teacher's head.