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Gallery programme gives Kōwhai Specialist School students confidence and skills

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A pilot education programme at Hastings City Art Gallery – Te Whare Toi o Heretaunga has given senior Kōwhai Specialist School students vital work experience.

The programme ran from June to August and was developed by the Gallery’s Schools LEOTC Educator Kelsey Hankins in direct response to the needs of Kōwhai Specialist School’s senior students.

Kōwhai Specialist School deputy principal Angie Dent says it’s a real challenge to find work experience opportunities for the school’s rangatahi, so the gallery programme was an “amazing opportunity” for the students, aged 18 to 21.

The programme focused on helping the students develop transferable skills to support them in future work opportunities. Over the course of 10 weeks, the students visited the te MOKO on our face / in your face exhibition, curated by renowned Māori artist Dr Sandy Adsett, MNZM, then chose their favourite work and developed a personal response to that work. Their response was then presented to classes from both Kōwhai School and another local specialist school.

Mrs Dent says the gallery team worked hard to ensure the learning environment provided was suited to her students’ needs.

“They offered visits before opening times to support students who require a calmer and less stressful environment and they also bring programmes to school, to ensure all students can access art in a way that they can relate to.”

Research released by Melbourne’s Vic Health last year shows that for young people in particular, arts engagement has been linked with improved self-esteem, confidence, resilience, and skill-building – changes which Mrs Dent says they saw in their own students over the course of the programme.

“We saw increased confidence in communication and social interaction skills and our students being able to transfer skills and knowledge into a new environment and context,” she says.

Increasing confidence in dealing with new environments is vital learning for Kōwhai Specialist School students, she adds.

“Generalising skills can be challenging for many people with additional needs, they may be able to have success in one context, but not in new environments. So, the initial practice at school, followed by lots of practice in the gallery enabled them to gradually build up the skills and confidence to succeed.

“They learned skills which can be used within the community and potentially other work experience opportunities. One student improved his use of te reo and incorporated this into his presentation, while two other students who were anxious about speaking in front of other people developed confidence and competence in this. With each practice and presentation, we could see improvement in their audibility, clarity of speech and confidence.

“Hopefully this is the start of more work experience possibilities.”

She says the students showed a sense of pride and “greatly enhanced mana” when they presented to classes from both Kōwhai School and another local specialist school.

The programme was developed alongside each student, with resources tailored to their chosen artwork, educational needs and learning outcomes.

Miss Hankins says Hastings City Art Gallery is focused on ensuring the arts are truly accessible to everyone in our community.

“Our work with Kōwhai Specialist School is just one way we are trying to ensure we can deliver truly accessible arts programmes for our community. The arts are so much more than just paintings on a wall. They’re fascinating, thought-provoking, and have an enriching quality. The arts can play a big part in developing real-life skills, and this programme really highlights that.”

7 October 2021

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