By Sela-Jane Hopgood
Tutors from Pacific Kids' Learning have just completed their pilot programme where they taught 50 Pasifika students from primary schools in South Auckland how to create animation stories.
The workshops focused on empowering young learners with foundation animation skills, using practical materials in conjunction with digital tools to harness their knowledge through STEM/STEAM learning.
The mastermind behind the programme Evo Leota-Tupou said her vision for the programme began in 2008 when she was a student at the University of Waikato.
"We worked with children with disabilities and as animators we helped develop their stories about who they are and got them involved by designing the characters of their story," she said.
However, it was not until two monumental moments' in Leota-Tupou's life that gave her the motivation to pursue her vision.
She has been a freelance graphic designer for almost 20 years and has worked as a video editor for Nickelodeon, she has done web design and has worked abroad in Australia.
"I had my second child in 2015 and flicking through the TV channels and not finding any educational Pacific content made me think maybe I could create something.
"It was not until 2018 though where I had a friend of mine on Facebook who is a choir master post a video of her group's latest work and the jingle in that video inspired me to want to animate their song and that's what got me creating and wanting to share my talents to young learners," she said.
The Pacific Kids' Learning team delivered 10 two-hour workshops with three Auckland schools - Flatbush Primary, Jean Batten School and Rise Up Academy.
Working in pairs, the students created a two-minute digital story using stop motion, Lego, plasticine and materials like tapa to create either a fictional story or a story about their cultural roots.
Fast-forward to today, she is gearing up with her team for their first Pacific Digital Stories showcase at the end of the month, presenting the work of the young students to their families and friends.
"We want to showcase to the parents to be proud of the kids' learning processes especially with developing their stories and trying to make them conscious of how important it is for them to connect to their cultural identity through these stories.
"Also, introducing to them the tech space," Leota-Tupou said.
Director of Pacific Kids' Learning Tatiana Marich-Tupou agreed that the program aimed to raise awareness for Pacific families about the career opportunities in digital animation.
"This topic is relevant for children because they watch animation on TV and now, they're learning the process behind that and they're making their own stop motion animation and more importantly telling their stories too.
"We have heard a lot about STEAM, which is science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, but I think it's important for our kids to know that STEAM doesn't just finish at school, you need to make a whole career out of it.
"The Pacific Kids Learning program meant the selected learners had access to industry professional animators in the classroom and hopefully they are peaking their interests so that they're inspired to learn more about their career pathways," Marich-Tupou said.
Pacific Kids' Learning are now at the final phase of their programme - adapting 15 digital stories from the students to create a collection of digitally animated reading resources, available and accessible for free to all future readers.
Flatbush Primary School takes on animation
Deputy Principal at Flatbush Primary School Janetta Mayerhofler said the opportunity for the children to learn digital animation as well as understand their cultural roots through the stories they created has been positive for them all.
"It was a great learning activity that allowed the children to engage with their parents and learn about where they came from and what they understand as home for them.
"We found that for some children, this was the first time they had heard the stories of why their parents migrated to New Zealand or how their parents met each other and so it was beautiful to see and hear," Mayerhofler said.
There were 20 students selected from the Ōtara school and Mayerhofler said they all loved the experience to learn about animation.
"They're really good using the iPad and doing stop motion using the app and to be able to tell their story in that format.
"They know how to use a storyboard to lay out a story in a few steps and then write about it, and more importantly it took a lot of patience, so watching the students persevere was heart-warming," she said.