Oryn Colgan, Keshawa Jayasinghe, James Gray, Sam Pan and Fletcher Williams, all 15, with their second national trophy and their first international trophy. Photo/Alyssa Smith
Students at Francis Douglas Memorial College have helped increase New Zealand’s literacy rate.
Grade 11 students Oryn Colgan, James Gray, Keshawa Jayasinghe, Elijah Lash, Sam Pan and Fletcher Williams, all 15, participated in Future Problem Solving New Zealand, and their project was ranked first at the International Conference on resolution of future problems which was held on June 9th. -12.
Due to Covid-19, the event was a hybrid competition and rather than traveling to Austin, TX, students traveled to Queenstown to participate in the conference virtually.
Students participated last year in community problem solving, which was evaluated at this year’s conference.
For the event, students had to apply their problem-solving skills to an issue in the community by developing an action plan to have an impact on the issue.
The students wrote and submitted a report, scrapbook and filmed a video about their Seuss Sleuths project to be judged at the conference.
Sam says their motivation for competing internationally was their second place finish in the national competition.
“It inspired us to participate and do our best. This place allowed us to qualify for the international competition, but we knew we wanted to try to place better.”
The team placed first in the intermediate category and James says winning the event was humbling.
“The ad went out at 2am NZ time and the whole band woke up to watch it. It was amazing to find out we had won.”
Robyn Wackrow, a teacher at Francis Douglas Memorial College, helped the students with their project.
“It’s been a pleasure working with them and I’m so proud of each one of them.”
For their project, the students worked closely with Marfell School to try to improve the reading age and literacy rate of students.
Oryn says the idea for the project started when the students were in grade 9.
“In English class, we were writing stories to students at Marfell School. We formed a bond with these students and it all went from there.”
Sam says after that the students started asking about the reading age and the literacy rate.
“We saw that New Zealand had fallen from third to 15th place for reading age and literacy rate. We all decided that we wanted to help improve that rate in the community, so we met a literacy expert who taught us the skills needed to improve those skills for students.”
In 2021, the group visited Marfell School once a week to work with students to improve their literacy skills.
Fletcher says the students partnered with one student each.
“We did it as an individual ratio to make it more personal to the student and to form those bonds with them. For the first session we went there and played games with them to build that bond and then the next time we started the reading sessions.”
The sessions lasted 40 minutes, with 30 minutes devoted to reading and the last 10 minutes being able to play games.
He says that for five weeks they had to stop the visits because of Covid-19, but they found other ways to continue this connection with the students.
“During the Covid-19 lockdown, we were emailing them and checking how their reading was going, and making sure they were okay with the Covid-19 situation.”
Keshawa says that after completing the visits, they saw great improvements in the reading age and literacy skills of these students.
“There have also been improvements in their social skills. It is quite humbling to know that we have played a part in improving their skills. We can see how much they have improved and how this improvement will continue to improve. ‘have on their life.’
James says he and Elijah joined the group late, to replace two members.
“They were patient as they taught us the ropes and everything we needed to know.”
Oryn says that in addition to changing students’ lives, the project has also changed theirs.
“We all gained more social skills and confidence from talking to people as well.”
After the project was completed, the group gave the students something to continue their reading journey.
Keshawa says they built a library for each student and gave them a personalized book.
“It was something for them to remember us.”
Fletcher says the students also showed their appreciation by writing them letters.
“My buddy wrote the biggest letter he ever wrote for me and everyone got something from their buddy. It was a pleasure to work with them. One of the students had improved his reading age by two years in the six months we worked with them.”
Although the project is over, Sam says they want to continue the tradition of working with the Marfell School.
“We made a video to show 8th grade students that once they get to 10th grade, they are inspired to work with the school to continue that bond and help students. We were also contacted by the school math department to see if we can start a similar program to help students with math.”
He says the project would not be possible without the help of school staff.
“We are so grateful to both schools for helping us on this journey and we hope it is something we can continue to develop in the future.”