Recent Visit to New Zealand & Australia: Different Countries, Same Challenges

Did you know that Check & Connect has reached south of the equator? It’s been implemented in New Zealand nationwide since 2014, and more recently in Australia.

This past August, David Johnson, director of the Institute on Community Integration, and I met with education staff and presented on Check & Connect at two conferences, one in each country. It was very rewarding to see our evidence-based student engagement model developed here at the University of Minnesota over 25 years ago being implemented with fidelity so far from home.

In New Zealand, we met with officials from the New Zealand Ministry of Education, the funding agency for their nationwide implementation of Check & Connect since 2014. We were delighted to hear that they recently expanded their implementation to reach middle school students as well as high school students.


Left to right: Cathy Wylie, NZ Council for Educational Research; Janice Brown, Otaki College; Hamish Wood, Otaki College; Jean Echternacht (me), University of Minnesota; David Johnson, University of Minnesota; Daniel Samuta, Cluster 5 RTLB; Arthur Mui, Cluster 5 RTLB.

One site implementing in New Zealand is RTLB-Cluster 5 in West Auckland. They have two full-time, dedicated mentors, Daniel Samuta and Arthur Mui, whom we met last fall when they presented at Check & Connect’s 25th anniversary conference in Minneapolis (see their presentation, Implementing Check & Connect from a Pacific Island Perspective: Taking a Village Approach to Addressing Dropout).



Check & Connect mentors Arthur Mui and Daniel Samuta of RTLB-Cluster 5.

We learned about how 90% of their student referrals are of Maori or Pacific Island heritage, and how they created a culturally responsive approach — termed “The modern day village approach” — to cater to that specific context.


Knowing their student population, I brought along our Expanding the Circle: Respecting the Past, Preparing for the Future transition curriculum that we designed for American Indian students here in the US, to help with their indigenous students. The Ministry staff were delighted. I look forward to hearing how they might incorporate the lesson plans in that curriculum.

Dr. Johnson and I presented at the Positive Behaviour for Learning School-wide Conference in Wellington, New Zealand on the research and practice highlights of Check & Connect. We were overwhelmed with the participants’ enthusiasm about the Check & Connect model. Over 100 people attended our morning and afternoon presentations. Many were excited to begin implementing Check & Connect in context of their PBS programming once they learned how Check & Connect works. I was most interested in the similarities between the Indigenous communities in New Zealand and the United States, and the need to engage students and help them find purpose to stay in school.

We also co-presented at the 2016 IASSIDD World Congress in Melbourne, Australia on the topic of post-secondary opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities in the US with the Transition to Postsecondary for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (TPSID) program sites at Ohio State University’s Nisonger Center and Georgia State’s Center for Leadership in Disability and GaLEND. Participants in the sessions represented countries from all over the world. Participants had great enthusiasm in their questions about implementation for their own country.

We in Check & Connect have been, for the most part, focused on our many and varied sites implementing in the U. S. and the challenges and opportunities of implementation with fidelity. What we learned in these opportunities to interact with international Check & Connect partners is that many of the challenges with at-risk youth and their families are the same anywhere in the world. Being able to strategize and share from our experiences was very rewarding.

About the Author: Jean K. Echternacht, Ed.D., is the program manager of Check & Connect, as well as several projects at the Institute on Community Integration serving American Indian youth in K11 and postsecondary schools, including Expanding the Circle: Transition Resources for American Indian Students and Culture-Based Arts Integration Curriculum.

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