Kōwhaiwhai at Carterton

| By Enviroschools Te Upoko te Ika a Māui and Carterton School

Deep exploration of identity develops students’ desire to be inclusive

After exploring the Enviroschools Guiding Principles with their Enviroschools Facilitator, staff at Carterton School decided that the principle of Respect for Diversity of People and Cultures would be a worthy focus for the 2018 school year.

Researching our identity

Team Kawakawa Tuakana (Yr 2) began in Term 1 by looking at ‘Us and Our Identity’. This involved each student making a “Ko wai au?” movie and taking one of our regular pepeha trips to visit the maunga and awa we sing about in our pepeha – Taratahi/ Mt Holdsworth and Ruamahanga.

In Term 2 we expanded our view from the individual to the community and investigated the history of Carterton and the Wairarapa.

Students notice the faded, jaded state of the fence.

At the same time as this learning was taking place, the students in the Kawakawa Tuakana noticed the faded and jaded state of their fence and wanted to revamp it.

Learning about how kōwhaiwhai panels can tell our story  

The students found out that kōwhaiwhai panels are based on nature and also tell a story.  They invited an important Māori carver, Matua Wayne Pitau (now the cultural and spiritual adviser for Pukaha Mount Bruce) to help tell Carterton School’s stories through kowhaiwhai panels.

They invited students from other Year 2 classes to participate in making the designs and to also vote for favourites.

Learning about kōwhaiwhai patterns.

Exploring their kōwhaiwhai kaupapa.










Saying who we are with our kōwhaiwhai panels

Working together on the panels.


Four panels emerged.  These represented their learning team, mana whenua in their community, their maunga and their awa. All of Kawakawa Tuakana helped paint the panels after Barry the caretaker and teacher aide Areta helped them draw them onto the wood.

Once the panels were finished, Team Kawakawa Tuakana gifted them to the school at a special assembly after which the panels were put in place on the fence.







This panel represents the school awa, Ruamahanga. The hammerhead shark representation indicates the strength of learning, red for the knowledge already held and black for things still to be learnt.

The wave design represents Kahungunu, an ancestor of the local manawhenua, who was a skilled fisherman. This panel also shows Ranginui the sky father and Papatūānuku the Earth Mother.

The kawakawa design represents the junior learning team. It uses the school colours and the students are proud of the fact that kawakawa is a medicine that helps people.

The mountain panel shows students are climbing their own mountain of learning as well as honouring the Tararua ranges. The koru indicates new learning.















Including everyone from every culture

Everyone loved the panels and at the same time the students and teachers were conscious that other cultures were present in the school but not represented in the first set of panels. A second phase took place where panels representing four further cultural areas were created – The Pacific, Australia, Asia and Europe.

“Sometimes we teachers have big ideas and it doesn’t all happen. In this case it was great to see the kids taking action and making sure their vision happened. It was fantastic to see the next steps happening as our students wanted all students to see their culture on a panel.” -Whaea Mel, Team Kawakawa Tuakana teacher

Inclusivity is on the radar of the students now and when they reviewed what it meant to be a Green-Gold Enviroschool in 2019, students noticed that African and South American cultures were missing. In 2020, plans are in place for even more panels.

We made a movie about making the panels and shared this with whānau who came along to our team Matariki Celebration.

“The panels look amazing on the fence. They brighten up the area. I really like the Pacifica panel the most as it reminds me of the Pacific.” – student, Billie


“One of the special features of our school are the panels. They are unique to us here at Carterton School.”  – Year 6 student


Team Kawakawa Tuakana gifted them to the school at a special assembly.

Banner photo: completed panels representing the diversity within the school community from left to right – Australian connections, European connections, the school’s maunga NgaTararua, the awa Ruamahanga, mana whenua ancestor Kahungunu, team Kawakawa, Pacifica connections, Asian connections.