My Pakuranga College Journey: Nijaya Senarath-Dassanayake

30 Mar My Pakuranga College Journey: Nijaya Senarath-Dassanayake

Firstly, my name is Nijaya Senarath-Dassanayake. I am 19 years old and I was diagnosed with autism when I was 3 years old. I have faced many challenges due to my autism, including having a low tolerance for loud sounds, sensory issues, and difficulties with social engagement. However, over the years, I have improved quite a lot physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I began my journey at Pakuranga College on the 3 February 2017 as a small, shy Year 9 student, having no knowledge of what high school would be like. I was put in the house of Nikau. I did not attend Year 9 camp because I was still too immature at that time to go because they didn’t allow parents to attend. That year, I studied Maths, English, Science, P.E, Health, and so on. 

Over the past five years at Pakuranga College, I have been attending school with different classes for different subjects. I am proud to be a student of Pakuranga College and incredibly fortunate to have wonderful staff and teachers as well as many opportunities that were available to me throughout my journey.

Furthermore, I have had so many special and wonderful memories representing Pakuranga College, such as performing in Kapa Haka at Cultural Night, playing table tennis socially at St Kent’s’, performing in the High School Musical production as a Year 10 student, attending the Tree Planting Day, and so on.

I was a student librarian in Years 12 and 13 and became Head Librarian in Year 13. Being a Head Librarian meant I was responsible for ensuring that the other librarians in my group were doing the right thing by returning the books to the correct shelves and sections. Whilst I’m remaining humble about my achievements, I received a special prize for service as a Head Librarian in 2021. My name will most likely be written on the board in the School Hall for Head Librarians this year. 

In 2020 and 2021, the last two years at Pakuranga College were quite peculiar and bizarre for all students and teachers due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Lockdowns, online learning, strict health and safety standards, as well as the cancellation or postponement of school sports and events, made the year very odd.

During lockdown, I was doing distance learning online with different subjects and teachers for online meetings on Zoom and Google Meet. Occasionally, I met with my teacher aides Mrs Prasad and Mrs Davina Brown for further assistance with difficult tasks and questions. Last year, I even created my very own presentation and document about the country of Sweden by researching facts, culture, famous people and companies relating to Sweden, but using my own words. It was a fantastic way to prevent myself from boredom during Auckland’s longer lockdown that took place for at least three months. Many students and teachers experienced anxiety, boredom and stress during lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as repetitive and monotonous news articles relating to coronavirus online and in newspapers. 

Despite the trials and tribulations of being in lockdown, I have been working extremely hard with my NCEA schoolwork to get my credits and pass my assessments. I have also practiced social distancing, scanning codes by using my phone when I entered different shops, wearing a mask while outdoors, and so on. 

This year in 2022, I will be having an extra year at school (transition year) whilst also going to MIT to do hospitality once a week. It will certainly be an excellent opportunity for me to try out new subjects and new co-curricular activities for fun because most people don’t normally get an opportunity like this. Additionally, I don’t have to worry about NCEA assessments, gaining credits and other important work so that I can finally enjoy a peaceful and interesting year without the burden of doing continuous assignments and constantly gaining important NCEA credits.

While most ordinary 19-year-olds are studying at university, partying, being away from their parents, hanging out with their friends, and having part-time (and occasionally full-time) jobs, I’ll be attending Pakuranga College for an extra year for three different subjects – Computer Aided Design, Photography, and Tourism Studies – as well as attending MIT to do a course in Hospitality. This will be a fantastic way to gain work experience, become more self-reliant and independent, and mature as a person. 

A personal goal of mine this year is to have the unique opportunity to be in the New Zealand media, for example the NZ Herald, Newshub, TV1 News, Newstalk ZB or Stuff NZ. I can talk about my autism, and how I overcame challenges such as loud sounds, clapping, etc. I could also talk about my extra year (transition year) at Pakuranga College whilst attending MIT, and my plans for the future on what I really want to do. Hopefully, I may appear in the NZ Herald newspaper and Newstalk ZB radio one day! I hope I can appear in a television interview in New Zealand this year, if I’m lucky enough. I would like to experience what it’s really like to have publicity. It would be an honor to be recognised for my maturity and hard work, especially by the New Zealand media, despite the challenges I face due to my autism.

Another goal is to participate in the One50 Group and Lifetime Dream Days event as it would be a special day to remember for the rest of my life. 

In addition, I could donate a trophy to Pakuranga College with my name on it. It could be awarded to students with special needs for exceptional bravery and gallantry as well as service to the school and hard work, despite the personal challenges they face.

I genuinely enjoy attending Pakuranga College because the students at this school are polite, humble, tolerant, mature, courteous, and talented young people. Pakuranga College also has a very caring, friendly, and welcoming environment, high academic standards, excellent discipline, decent school culture, incredible opportunities, and many superb facilities for students to enjoy whilst focusing on their studies and school work. It is also a massive and diverse high school with more than 2,000 students and over 150 staff members coming from different backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures. I would definitely recommend Pakuranga College to parents as a school for your child’s secondary education due to the school’s good reputation.

Another advantage of Pakuranga College is that most teachers and students are tolerant, supportive, understanding, and welcoming of people from different cultures and backgrounds. This is including students with special needs and different types of disabilities. Everyone is treated the same, regardless of their race, gender, academic ability, or religion. 

However, there are always challenges experienced by every school, and Pakuranga is no different. Occurrences of bullying, vandalism, fighting, and discrimination are absolutely reprehensible and deplorable and have no place at any school. When appalling things like this occur, it can be detrimental to a school’s overall culture and even have adverse repercussions on the reputation of a particular school. In addition, the vast majority of students and teachers detest arrogance and violent behavior. Thus, diversity, unity, good discipline and good behavior should always be rewarded, encouraged, and recognised. 

The top priority at the moment for the school is the well-being of staff and students at Pakuranga College. New Zealand has a deplorable rate of bullying and mental health issues, particularly among vulnerable young people. This includes those with anxiety, depression, addiction issues, and other mental health issues. Mental health issues are even more challenging for everyone at the moment due to lockdowns, uncertainty, boredom, and so on. It’s absolutely crucial that the school, Principal, and School Board focus on the topic of mental health and the mental and emotional well-being of staff, teachers, and students during these extremely difficult times.

Mental health should also be talked about more often in schools around New Zealand, especially Gumboot Friday, “I AM HOPE”, Mike King, and raising awareness about the Mental Health Foundation NZ. We should also recognise the superb work counselors, therapists and psychologists do to help vulnerable people turn their lives around. Last year, I also created my very own Mental Health presentation on Google Slides raising awareness about mental health for an assessment in my English class. Mental health is vital for our well-being because it affects our demeanor, cognitive ability, and the ability to think and manage our emotions. As I said earlier, mental health at Pakuranga College should certainly be the number one priority for all students and staff due to the Omicron outbreak being a very bizarre time for everyone at the moment. We don’t know what events will actually happen at Pakuranga College this year due to the ongoing situation. Also, many people are experiencing boredom and frustration due to events getting canceled or postponed. 

Pakuranga College should also include a Life Skills programme for students of all year levels to keep themselves occupied and learn important life skills such as proper money management, independent traveling & living, volunteering in their community, getting a job, etc. This will help students to learn how to become mature, responsible, and confident adults and lead happy and successful lives in society. Volunteering opportunities for students at Pakuranga College should definitely be encouraged both at school and in the East Auckland community. Additionally, it’s a fantastic way for students to expand their CV, gain volunteer experience, and improve their chances of gaining employment in the future. 

Furthermore, Pakuranga College should add quizzing competitions and quiz clubs for students and staff at Pakuranga College to learn a wide range of general knowledge. Topics could include History, Geography, Science, Mathematics. Questions that are similar to the popular game shows The Chase and Tipping Point on TVNZ 1 would be good because they help contestants learn new things. Quizzing clubs in schools should be encouraged everywhere if people are genuinely interested or passionate about quizzes. It may also encourage students to do quizzing for a hobby or even a career choice – hence, it would be a great opportunity for students to learn new things and represent their school, region, and even their country at different events. I enjoy learning new things every day because it helps keep my mind sharp. 

I hope 2022 will be a significantly more normal year, unlike the last two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I don’t really know what will actually happen in 2022 for me and the students and staff at Pakuranga College due to the uncertainty relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, I hope I can work more for the School Newspaper (The Pakage) with Mrs Edwards and Holly Rowsell this year to create positive and interesting pieces that are not related to Covid-19 for students and staff to read and enjoy. The online student newspaper (The Pakage) launched in September last year. It’s a wonderful way for talented students to share their work on The Pakage website.

Nijaya Senarath-Dassanayake – Year 13



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