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Porirua children benefit from lawyers helping with homework

Lawyer Josh Pietras talks science with 9-year-olds Jasmin Teofilo, front, and Sada Taualai at Holy Family School in Porirua.

Stuff: March 24, 2016

Lawyers are dotted throughout a bustling classroom in a Porirua primary school. One is helping kids unscramble anagrams, another explaining what hydrogen is.

The children are enthusiastic, lapping up the help provided by the visitors.

Every Thursday, staff from law firm Minter Ellison Rudd Watts head along to Holy Family School in Cannons Creek as part of a project, Homework Help.

Stacey Shortall started the initiative as a way to connect staff back into the community. She picked Holy Family School at random, and it accepted her offer to send lawyers along to help out with homework.

"My idea was to try and get different role models in front of these kids, not better role models – they've got great ones from their community and families – just different role models who work corporate or professional jobs and might ... encourage these kids to think a bit differently about what they might want to do when they're older."

Since then, the school had expanded the programme, renaming it a learning support hub, and had people coming in to work with the children three times a week.

Shortall, meanwhile, is working to expand Homework Help to more decile 1 schools across Wellington, and nationwide.

Holy Family deputy principal Fisiena Lupo-Samoa said that, without the help of the volunteers, the learning support hub wouldn't exist.

The lawyers involved brought with them outside knowledge about science and technology, as well as helping with the basics such as reading and maths. "Having them here means they [the children] are exposed to another world."

A recent trip to the law firm for the official launch of Homework Help had some senior students talking about university.

Volunteer Josh Pietras, who goes to the school most weeks, said he learned as much from the children as they learned from him.

"They're so enthusiastic about life. They've got a lot to look forward to."

Since the hub started, more of the community had got involved. Kids who had left the school were coming back to help the younger ones, and parents and grandparents were pitching in.

Shortall said other schools were interested in getting involved with Homework Help, and she hoped different workplaces wanted to partner with decile 1 schools.

"We're hoping we can really encourage different organisations to reconnect with the community.

"It's a fun way to do it, and it encourages them to think differently. It has the ability to change how everyone thinks about the world."

Principal Chris Theobald said having the lawyers come and talk to the kids helped break down misconceptions – "anyone can be a lawyer".

"It's about opening our kids' eyes to the different possibilities out there ... these kids are very happy, talented, knowledgeable, and smart."

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