Patea Area School’s vision statement is “growing good people for a changing world”, and its students are living, breathing embodiments of the concept.

In April, the school received the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Global Citizenship Education Award in the Education Sector, in recognition of its efforts to make a difference in the world.

Principal Nicola Ngarewa describes the honour as “super cool”.

“The awesome thing about it is that it’s not about outrunning or outsmarting somebody, but it’s actually about being ... good people.

“Who wouldn’t want a label that says you’re a good person, what you’re doing is making a difference towards helping the world, and helping your local community and global community be a better place!” she says.

Each term, the whole school takes part in an enquiry project with a local or global challenge focus.

Each student chooses an aspect of the inquiry topic based on their area of interest, passion and need, and this inquiry work becomes the basis of their personalised learning pathway.

The model embeds global citizenship into the curriculum.

“Our curriculum is experiential-centric, so it’s purposefully made around that global citizenship...the work that they do, rather than close it up in the book at the end of the term, and just leave it, it’s meant to make a difference, it’s meant to create change and create conversation,” Ngarewa says.

Earlier this year, the school held a Feast or Famine fundraising dinner to raise money for equitable access to digital fluency in their local community.

While the result was local, the dinner was also tied to the global: guests drew cards that dictated their menu, with half the diners served a feast, while the other half ate only rice and beans - the same meal that millions around the world eat every day, intended to highlight their plight.

Students were involved in designing, planning, coordinating and managing the event, adding to their growing skill set and the experiential learning that Patea Area School promotes.

“We’re one of the few communities that doesn’t have subsidised access to WiFi, so we’re kind of that stereotypical situation of the digital divide,” Ngarewa explains.

“So [money raised is] going towards collaborating with others on ways of supporting subsidised WiFi, as well as subsidised access to devices.”

Movers, shakers, collaborators and politicians were invited to experience the dinner, which sold out.

While the money itself would not be enough to solve the problem, Ngarewa says the event created a platform to bring together those that could help bridge the digital divide in Patea and in other disadvantaged communities.

The principal says there were three critical points that she hoped the Feast or Famine dinner would convey.

“One is…that change of mindset, to move to an abundance mindset, effectively it means that there’s more than enough to go around in the world.

“The second critical part of is be courageous, be the one that’s prepared to stand out of the crowd.

"And the third most important thing is, it only ever takes one, and we all are the one, you are the one - so every single one of us in that room has the power to create positive change.”

She says the Global Citizenship Education Award is a reminder for students of their power.

“It just shows it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, [or] what background you come from, your potential for change is absolutely phenomenal.

"For the wider community, it’s about highlighting issues that often we can turn a blind eye to or judge others for having an opinion about it but not actually realise that we’re doing it ourselves.”

Meanwhile, Patea Area School’s enquiry projects continue.

Students as young as five have also been flexing their good-citizen muscles, making ‘I Got Your Back’ care packs from research to fundraising and delivery.

More recently, students visited the Māori Affairs Select Committee at the invitation of NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft, with food and a message prepared from the Patea sea.

Students expressed their concern to the acting prime minister about seabed mining and the impact this could have on the environment and availability of seafood.

“[It’s] a major issue our community is contending with and that has been part of both our inquiry and whole day learning,” Ngarewa says.

“We were also asked to provide morning tea - so we combined them both, sourcing and providing the select committee and acting PM with locally sourced seafood platters and our youths’ voice.”

In a decile one school with more than 70 per cent Māori students, Ngarewa says there is the potential for people to see deficits.

However, she says they are turning any misconceptions on their head.

“We can all be labelled in so many different ways.

“My learning community … represent so many potential deficits but [they’re] redefining their own label, I think that’s really cool!” she says.