The Rise UP Trust began in February 2006 as a Saturday home schooling programme in the garage of its founder, Sita Selupe, a young Tongan primary school teacher on maternity leave.
The children called it ‘Aunty Sita's Homeschool’ and the hands-on learning and homework that required parent and caregiver input quickly gained momentum. Parents noticed that their children were always keen to start Aunty Sita's Homeschool, even at 7.30 on a Saturday morning.
“It started with one girl coming to my house on Saturday mornings and her mother asking if she could learn to do what I was doing with her daughter. More children started to arrive and they all wanted to learn more,” says Sita.
In September 2006 Aunty Sita's Homeschool was renamed the Rise UP Trust (RUT) in memory of Sita's cousin, Riki Mafi, who was killed by youth gang members.
Sita says that gang violence is often associated with communities where there is high poverty and Rise UP Trust was a response to rising levels of gang violence. The Foundation’s founders believe that education and relationships are the keys to breaking the cycle of poverty.
The Foundation’s approach is to work with parents and families with the understanding that 'you cannot change people's actions until they change the way they think'.
“We work with parents to find out where their family is at and then find ways to help them. We use classroom practice, and inquiry based learning, but we explain the process so they can understand it,” Sita says.
The Foundation has developed a series of unique parenting courses called ‘Building Learning Communities’, which draw on the teachings of Edward DeBono, Ruby Pane (A Framework for Understanding Poverty), Gary Chapman (The Five Love Languages) and Benjamin Bloom (Blooms Taxonomy).
The model ,which aligns to the NZ school curriculum, encourages parents and children to be active participants in the learning process, using real-life scenarios.
“We use DeBono’s thinking hats to teach problem-solving skills,” says Sita, “but we use real-life situations. For example, we sit down with the families and discuss something like buying a car. We use all DeBono’s thinking hats to use all the different modes of thinking. Using the white hat we look at the facts, ‘how much money do you have? What are the benefits? What are the disadvantages? The red hat looks at emotions, the green hat is for new ideas.
“The thinking hats are used by everyone from corporates to classrooms. We teach the families how to apply this learning and then they can use the hats for anything. It doesn’t matter if you’re five or 55, you need to know how to solve problems, big or small.”
Until it gained Foundation North funding, Rise UP Trust delivered its parenting programmes voluntarily, raising funds through garage sales, cake stalls, community donations and by using free community venues.
The staff have now moved into offices in the Pacific Business Trust and in 2010 they are delivering the programme into two schools and two church groups.
There are now 50 children in the Rise UP Kids programme, learning problem-solving strategies, while Rise UP Parents provides the information and tools that allow parents to help their children to learn.
“Then both groups come together in the Synergy group to share what they have learned and use the models we’ve taught them,” Sita says. “The parents can see where their children are at and they also have good-quality family time.
“We use a lot of humour in our delivery and it’s not threatening. We use the enquiry learning model, but it’s been changed to suit Maori and Pacific families. We think we’ve now got a model that really works.”
Parents who have been on the Building Learning Communities programme are more willing to get involved in their children’s education, showing more confidence in meetings with teachers and asking relevant questions.
“They’ve got the confidence to go to meetings and say what they want for their kids, so we know that the programme works,” says Sita, “but people have to know about it. Now we have to get the community to take ownership, so it can be sustainable.”