After four years of teaching Maori te reo to more than 140 students, Oamaru Language School founder Sophia Leon de la Barra is moving on.

Miss Leon de la Barra said she is now turning her attention to exploring sustainable patterns of living.

“I never really planned to be a teacher – life is full of surprises.”

Although the school only officially launched in 2019, it started teaching two years earlier for a “friend of a friend” – he wanted to learn te reo Maori with his daughter, who was half Maori.

“Turns out he wasn’t the only one — there was a whole critical mass of community members who wanted to learn te reo,” she said.

In the coming year, she will be replaced by te reo experts Justin Tipa and Ana Tangaroa, who moved from Christchurch to Moeraki late last year to support and work at Moeraki Runaka.

Mr. Tipa is an alumnus of the prestigious Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo, an exclusive Maori language academy, and is President of Te Runanga o Moeraki. Ms. Tangaroa completed the Advanced Maori Language Immersion Diploma at Te Pinakitanga ki te Reo Kairangi in Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

“Justin and Ana are true experts in te reo Maori – it’s a truly unique opportunity to study with this caliber of teacher in the Waitaki District,” said Miss Leon de la Barra.

“I feel like this is the start of a big movement for our city.”

Mr. Tipa’s family has long-standing ties to Waitaki and he grew up between Omarama and Kurow.

He participated in the Te Kohanga Reo movement of the 1980s, learning the language in Twizel, and had access to “wonderful tutors” over the years, he said.

Ms. Tangaroa has been trained in kura kaupapa and te ataarangi — immersive methods of teaching te reo.

As second language learners, it was important for the couple to acquire the language to a high degree in order to raise their four children as native speakers.

Both passionate about te reo and tikanga Maori (custom), the couple did not want to see Miss Leon de la Barra’s progress in the “te reo space” blocked, Mr Tipa said.

“Sophia has done a lot of work over the past few years to meet the needs of the community in the te reo space,” he said.

Mr Tipa acknowledged an “overwhelming” desire from businesses, schools and individuals to learn te reo in the community.

“To see that need is really positive and we didn’t want that to go away,” he said.

Registration for this year’s te reo community classes is open.

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