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Schools and Students




Empowering change at
Taita College

Taitā College in Lower Hutt has the vision, “Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei: Aim high for what is truly valuable, be persistent and don’t let obstacles stop you from reaching your goal.”

First Foundation scholarships are helping students to bring this to life.

Taita College at our Awards Ceremony 2023 including Daemon Iti-Adam, Jaxson Tautala-Hanita and Emma Henderson

Taitā College has just over 360 students between Years 9 and 13. However, the impact of First Foundation scholarships there has been huge, fostering a culture of excellence that inspires and strengthens the community.

Emma Henderson began coordinating applications for First Foundation scholarships at Taitā College more than ten years ago. She’s now Head of English but still manages the relationship and is passionate about it. “I’m an ex-student myself and have been part of the teaching here since 2003. As Head of English, I have a good understanding of our kids’ needs and potential.”

First Foundation scholarships unlock opportunity

Emma says, “First Foundation scholarships are a way for the kids to see themselves in education. In Taitā, our students don’t have a lot of exposure to university; their friends and family haven’t been there. They don’t know what it looks like, even though there are often family expectations that they’ll get tertiary education. First Foundation scholarships make it a real possibility.

She says a key reason the First Foundation programme is so successful is that it starts in Year 12. It encourages students to achieve early and maintain their grades.

“At Taitā College, 25 students have won scholarships over the last 20 years. Those kids inspire others. It incentivises students to focus on their academics and creates a ripple effect. First Foundation scholarships are highly valued by the community – it’s a huge family honour too.”

Targeting transitions changes outcomes

Emma says First Foundation’s support for navigating the transition to university is critical.

“Although the money is vital, the wrap-around support changes everything because it helps students navigate the transition from school to university successfully. For example, it’s one thing for a student to go to university with the aim of becoming an accountant, but what does an accountant actually do? What are the expectations of you as a university student?

Many kids will drop out because they have no idea what to expect or what it looks like. But First Foundation mentors are so close to their students. They can catch them early and keep them on track.

“At Taitā College, we’re a tight-knit group. We keep in touch, but we don’t have a role in tracking our students once they leave school. First Foundation has special expertise in that transition phase.”

Further transformation follows

Scholars from Taitā College are making sure they help others succeed.

Ex-Taitā student and NZTE scholar Jaxson Tautala-Hanita was the winner of First Foundation’s 2023 Trustee Award. He is the first in his family to attend university and gain a degree. Jaxson has made a point of supporting other Pasifika students, especially in the world of science.

“It was daunting for a boy from Taitā College, a boy from the Hutt, to move down to Ōtepoti. It meant a lot to me to be in a position to help support students who have similar backgrounds to mine, coming from low decile socio-economic households,” he says.

“To have a degree majoring in STEM and in arts as well has been absolutely incredible. It’s definitely set me up for the future, along with my family, my whānau, and my aiga.

Jaxon accepting his award on stage at the First Foundation Trustee Awards Evening.

Scholars lift others

Another ex-student, Rosalina Sitagata, 2014 Gawith Deans scholar, says First Foundation has a huge part to play in her success and drive to give back. Rosalina gained a Bachelor of Arts at Victoria.

She has focused her work in the public sector, especially where she can make an impact on equity. Her career has already taken her through NZTE and the Ministry of Pacific Peoples to Kāinga Ora, where she works as an advisor and analyst. Outside of work, she is now a mentor for First Foundation. Her own experience inspired her.

Rosalina Sitagata with her scholarship partner from Gawith Deans Family Trust.

First Foundation always makes sure that you don’t feel alone. Whatever barriers you come up against, they always provide some kind of support. I’m just so grateful for the opportunities I gained and the networks I built through the programme.

“Now, although I’m still young, I’m helping someone else navigate the journey. And my mentee just graduated – it’s been amazing to be on the other side of the programme.”

Other students deserve access to opportunities

Rosalina, Jaxson, and Emma point out that there’s still an unmet need. They say the three pillars of First Foundation mean the impact for Taitā College students could be replicated elsewhere with enough funding.

Rosalina says, “There are still a lot of students at Taitā College and others who don’t get the opportunities I’ve had. The support that I had is the support that I hope every ambitious young person should have.”

Jaxson agrees. “Māori and Pasifika students are hugely underrepresented in the sciences. It was very important for me to come down [to Dunedin] and make a change, to make a difference.”

Help with fees is vital for students in lower socio-economic areas. Rosalina says, “The financial support is huge. It was difficult to appreciate what an enormous difference it would make to come out of university without the financial stress of a massive loan.”

Taitā College has seen transformation within its community by giving students real access to opportunities. Thank you to those scholarship partners, mentors and teachers who are all supporting change in their areas. We need more generous visionaries like you!

View Taita College’s news story on their First Foundation legacy.