Like the mission statement of her revolutionary school in South Auckland, Sita Selupe is raising leaders, one child at a time.
What began as a Saturday morning home school for whanau in her garage a decade ago, has evolved into a celebrated educational trust which has helped over 200 families across South Auckland, and a first-of-its-kind charter school to raise the achievements of Pasifika and Maori children.
Blake Leader Sita believes education and relationships are the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, and through her own education philosophy, parents are empowered to be active participants in their child’s learning.
New Zealand-born, and of Tongan and Niuean descent, Sita has also raised four children while seeing her vision come to fruition. She is consistently described as a passionate, visionary and inspirational leader, with a tenacity and drive that motivates not only children and parents, but also the team-mates she gathers around her.
Sita was a primary school teacher on maternity leave when she started a weekend home-school in her garage, initially to help her own children, then extended whanau. She taught inquiry-based learning and problem-solving skills, and the homework she set required parent and caregiver input.
“Aunty Sita’s Home School” quickly gained momentum, and needed a name change. She called her new enterprise Rise UP Trust – in honour of her cousin, killed by members of a youth gang.
She began Hearts & Minds workshops giving parents tools to set up their children to succeed in learning.
For the first three years, Sita dedicated 30 voluntary hours a week to her vision, creating the framework of her educational programmes, and building relationships with the community and stakeholders - all while raising her young family. With the help of her growing team, she raised funds through garage sales, cake stalls and community donations.
Sita has built Rise UP to the point where it is now a thriving charitable trust, with a strong organisational culture. There are six board members, 11 staff, and a vibrant group of volunteers. Sita mentors her team members, encouraging them to aim for continuous improvement and be self-sufficient. Although she is skilled at delegating, Sita continues to be “first one there, last to leave”, and is never afraid to roll up her sleeves and pitch in.
So far, Rise UP has worked with over 200 families in the South Auckland suburbs of Mangere and Manurewa, positively impacting on the lives of whanau, who are now engaged in their children’s learning.
In 2009 Rise UP Trust were recipients of the ASBCT Maori Pacific Education initiative, gaining a five-year grant to improve education achievement for Maori and Pasifika with the ‘Building Learning Communities’ project.
Four years later, Rise UP Trust was chosen to open the first Primary Partnership School (Kura Hourua) in New Zealand, designed to bring together the education, business and community sectors to provide new opportunities for students to achieve educational success.
The Rise UP Academy, with Sita as CEO and principal, opened in Mangere East in 2014, providing education for Year 1 to 6 learners. Seventy percent of the founding students are Pasifika and 30 percent identify as Maori. The school’s vision: Sharp minds, strong bodies, good hearts. Its mission: Raising leaders, one child at a time.
Sita is an active member of the Tongan and Niuean communities. She helped her uncle ‘Akilisi Pohiva – the first commoner to be elected Prime Minister of Tonga in 2014 – to draft an agreement to form a government. She aspires to work in education in the Pacific Islands, particularly Tonga.
Education is always front of mind for Sita. At her local church, she has led Sunday School programmes and helped to develop volunteer management and budgeting plans. She is still on the Board of Trustees at her children’s former primary school and has been a member of the Ministry of Education Northern Region Pacific Advisory Group since 2009.
With a postgraduate diploma in Not For Profit Management from Unitec, Sita assists other organisations in the not-for-profit sector. Her 20-year vision for the Rise UP Trust is as a governance capacity builder to support other Pasifika organisations to deliver programmes to their communities.
When Sita was named Next Magazine’s Woman of the Year in 2014, she explained that Rise UP was not just about educational achievements, but also about community transformation.