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Being the youngest in her class didn’t bother Djuan Ruland-Umata during the three years she spent studying for a Bachelor of Education (Primary) degree at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

Unlike many teenagers - who want to get as far away from school as possible when they finish Year 13 - Djuan simply had a year off before enrolling in her teaching degree.

“I took a gap year,” she says.

Her mother is a teacher so Djuan knew what to expect from a teaching career and says she particularly enjoyed the unique learning experience that Te Wānanga o Aotearoa provided.

“I just loved the cultural feel of it,” she says.

“I could express myself as Māori and Pasifika because that’s who I am. I was able to be myself. I was able to grow for me.”

Djuan was one of 11 tauira who graduated with a Bachelor of Education (Primary) degree at Waiāriki last week. Another five tauira graduated with Bachelor of Education (Adult Education) degrees, while 19 Maunga Kura Toi Bachelor of Māori Art degrees were awarded. Hundreds of certificates and diplomas were also presented at the two graduation ceremonies, which marked the conclusion of Te Waenga graduation ceremonies for 2018.

After completing her studies last year, Djuan is now working at Kaitao Intermediate School in Rotorua and says she would never have been able to succeed in her studies at a typical mainstream tertiary education provider.

“I couldn’t learn in lectures, in that sort of environment,” she says.

“When we connected as a class and with the kaiako, the intimacy we had was amazing, that’s what I really loved about learning at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.”

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