The first thing you notice about Kuranui’s Teacher in Charge of Performing Arts, Juanita McLellan, is her laugh and her smile. The second is the way the students flock to her like moths to a flame.
Her rapport with students is obvious and you can tell she cares deeply for them and they her. Her students would tell you her classes are vibrant and fun, where they are free to be themselves. “Fostering an inclusive environment is very important to me, because that’s when you see the students thrive,” explains McLellan. “They are honest and forthright, and it is interesting to see how they process things and what marvellous ideas they bring to the table.”
McLellan teaches both History and Drama, which sums up two of her obsessions. They complement each other as she is always interested in knowing why events happened, how they started and why it matters today. This is often the basis for devising drama and learning ‘by doing’ is also a big part of Kuranui culture.
Performing Arts has gone from strength to strength, and now with the new and innovative Ignite curriculum in the Junior School, it is becoming even more popular as students are encouraged to choose personalised programmes of study.
Having spent her teenage years as a student at the South Wairarapa College, McLellan returned to Kuranui as a teacher almost 18 years ago. Her own life is one that promotes living outside the box. She now lives in Featherston with her husband, Dilip Solanki, who also taught at Kuranui for a time, and their beagle dogs Rocky and Ruby.
She has a post-grad diploma in Astrophysics, has seen and read the original Treaty of Waitangi and in her spare time she likes to write knitting patterns. “I am an acquired taste,” she adds.
In July, she is off to the Globe Theatre in London to perform A Winter’s Tale. Not many people are selected for this rare opportunity and it is only open to teachers from New Zealand. McLellan was thrilled when chosen because she will also be performing alongside one of her former students, Tommy Laybourn. “It’ll be an experience of a life time.”
One of her proudest moments at Kuranui College was fundraising and taking students to London and Paris to visit iconic heritage sites. Another moment took place last year when her students performed their 15-minute Shakespeare piece, Pericles.
“All of the community got involved, not just the students. We had local Iwi and parents contributing to our performance to make it an authentic piece. It was very moving and fabulous to have the support from our community.”