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Māori language immersion education inspires American scholars

By Eruera Rerekura - | @erurerekura

Published: 6:36PM Friday July 01, 2016

  •  (Source:
    Fulbright scholar and American kindergarten teacher Angela Palmieri's website explores ways of integrating culture into schools using Maori medium education as an example. - Source:

A group of American Fulbright scholars studying in New Zealand are learning about Māori language medium education and what they can glean from it to take back to the United States.

For one of the students from Los Angeles it’s been a dream come true to meet and work with Māori people.

Angela Palmieri is a kindergarten founding teacher of a Spanish dual language immersion program at John Muir Elementary in Glendale, California.

She’s participating in a professional development program at Victoria University of Wellington, and is completing an inquiry project on New Zealand bilingual education pedagogical approaches.

Ms Palmieri said her fascination with Māori language and culture started when she was 11-years-old.

“This is my third time in Aotearoa and when I applied for the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching I knew I would apply to come here, first, it's a beautiful country, and second, I wanted to work with Māori people in order to develop the cultural pedagogy at my school back in Los Angeles,” Ms Palmieri said.

Nessa Mahmoudi, whose family is originally from Iran, is involved in a professional development programme at Victoria University of Wellington, and is completing an inquiry project on how teachers in Māori medium programs conceptualise and actualise Māori identity development in their classrooms.

“I am a primary school teacher in Oakland and I work at a school which is a dual language school that's using Spanish and English, and I came here to see what Māori immersion was about,” Ms Mahmoudi said.

Kandyce Anderson is from Indianapolis, Indiana, and is completing a Post-Graduate Diploma in Global Education focusing on theoretical underpinnings of Kaupapa Māori Theory at the University of Waikato.

She told Te Karere that tino rangatiratanga at kura kaupapa Māori was part of inspiration for studying in New Zealand.

“I came from an African-American background. In the States I do a lot in race and ethnicity. I was interested in Māori culture and Māori immersion schools because of the sense of self determination within the schools,” Ms Anderson said.

Both Ms Palmieri and Ms Anderson said the Māori language medium education was something they were keen to replicate in the United States.

“Māori teachers in schools are experts at teaching culture and so I wanted to integrate a lot of the practises that I see at the schools at my school. So I developed a website, it's called and I developed a presentation where I've documented all of the cultural practises of Māori teachers in schools,” Ms Palmieri said.

“I want to personally create a model based off kaupapa Māori immersion schools that would actually embrace the wellbeing of the African-American student. Obviously my focus is in policy and education policy. So what I'm doing here is studying what is kaupapa Māori, what is the philosophy, especially, within the realm of education,” Ms Anderson said.

Oakland Elementary School teacher Nessa Mahmoudi admitted that her experience in Aotearoa has been overwhelming, but thoroughly worth it.

“What I learned was way beyond what I could've imagined. I think that what happened was that my brain totally expanded around indigenous education and around indigenous research methods, so as a researcher, thinking about the implications for doing research in an indigenous context and that's been the transformative part of the experience for me.”

The American Fulbright scholars only have about six months left before they return to the United States, and all of them told Te Karere that meeting, working with and learning about Māori culture has been the highlight of their time in New Zealand.