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More than learning English

By Holly Shan

Evakona Education, located on the Southern Highway, part of Whitianga township has recently put up a billboard outside its campus that reads, “HOST STUDENTS: $280/wk per student. Take two students, provide three meals and a caring environment.” This announcement heralds that the campus will soon be bustling with activity.

The principal, Eriko Mclean, and her team are overjoyed that the pandemic has finally ended, and the school can reopen its doors. Last June, about 20 Japanese students arrived in Whitianga for a six-month language study, but for most of the past three years, Evakona could only provide online courses to its students in Japan. As a result, while this was enough to sustain the school, they could not involve the local community in their educational programs, which was always their goal. Eriko points out that the school's objective is not just to provide language training but to offer an immersive experience of New Zealand culture and lifestyle.

This week, 37 students from Yasuda High School in Tokyo will come for an eight-day experiential learning program at Evakona. The school has been working with Yasuda High School for 15 years, and the feedback from students and their parents has always been positive. “Yasuda High School is anticipated to keep on with our programming,” Eriko said proudly.

Later in March, the school will welcome quite a number of long-term students after a three-year gap. They are here to undertake a three-year High School Preparation Course. “The students will spend their first year at Evakona improving their English and earning their NCEA Level 1 Certificate. Then, they will attend local high schools around Coromandel and Waikato to study with local students. Throughout their academic journey, Evakona's staff will provide support until they enter universities worldwide, including schools in New Zealand, Australia, America, the UK, China, and Japan.” Ako Carse, the Student Support Teacher, said. “Forty-one students will participate in the program this year, up from 20-25 in previous years,” adds Ako.

That’s why Teresa Thomson, the English Language and Computing Teacher who also manages homestays, eagerly seeks more homestays to accommodate the influx of students. “The school's homestay requirements are quite flexible, ranging from a few weeks to a year or more.” Local homestay families have previously established long-term relationships with their tenants. Some students have even returned to visit their homestay parents after a few years, while some families have gone overseas to see the students and their families in Japan.

To accommodate the increasing number of students, Eriko is changing the homestay policy. They used to place only one student per family, but now two students can choose to stay together. Eriko believes that two students living together will allow them to support each other and feel more confident in communicating, especially since Japanese students can be shy and reserved.

In addition to regular Level 1 classes such as English/ESOL, mathematics, physics, and computing, Evakona encourages students to participate in activities beyond the school bounds. The school engages in land or water sports, arts, social activities, and the local food and entertainment scene. The teachers are proud of the Japanese students' progress, not only in their language skills but also in their character development. After a year of study, shy students can become more energetic and free-spirited, which Eriko believes will help them their entire life.

Eriko emphasises that the school is a part of the Whitianga community. They have been getting so much support from local businesses and families all these years. The collapse of surrounding roads is another challenge for the school recently, making it harder to transport students arriving at Auckland Airport to Whitianga. “Fortunately, Whitianga City Cabs is really supporting us as they have always done,” Eriko said.

Eriko hopes to pass on a message through The Informer: “Our sessions and activities are open to all local businesses in Whitianga and surrounding areas. Any suggestion to help our students integrate into New Zealand is welcome.”

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