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NCEA student investigates road of personal significance

July 2021. Here’s how a student investigated road safety for NCEA geography, focusing on the very highway where his own family has felt the effects of a crash.

James Graham

State Highway 2 heads into Masterton through intersections busy with cars and trucks, where drivers on side roads eye up the traffic looking for a gap. Crashes happen here.

Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency is working towards road improvements that locals have long sought. Included in the latter is ex-secondary school student James Graham. He investigated the stretch of highway south of town in NCEA Level 3 geography while a student at Chanel College in 2020. His own father was injured in a crash here years before.

James ended up with an excellence in AS 91431: Analyse aspects of a contemporary geographic issue.

In researching people’s values and perceptions of the issue, he spoke to members of his family, read media articles and emailed contacts gained through his involvement in SADD – Students Against Dangerous Driving.

James, now at university, was a SADD National Leader and his involvement in the student organisation fuelled his mindset about taking action on societal issues.

“That was when I really saw that road safety was somewhere where I wanted to try and make a difference, because my dad was in a serious car crash when he was about my age. He's been living with epilepsy ever since. So, it’s had an effect on our family and I don't want that to happen to anyone else.”

The geography project

Chanel College Deputy Principal Nigel Bailey was James’ geography teacher. He says the curriculum expectation is that Level 3 projects are conducted by students in consultation with teachers.

“When they get to Level 2 and Level 3 I open up the topics for students to choose themselves, with my blessing because some ideas don’t work well,” says Nigel.

“James had a personal interest in the Norfolk Road junction. And it was a very contemporary issue because every year there are crashes down that road. Earlier this year my own wife was involved in a crash when a car cut across in front of her; she’s okay now.”

James said investigating the safety of a local road and proposing solutions tied in with both physical and social geography.

“Why hasn't the issue been solved? What challenges come with solving it? That kind of thing. I talked to my father and my grandad who lives on Norfolk Road. And I talked to Holly Hullena and Bruce Pauling, the road safety coordinators for the Wairarapa. They really helped with finding sources to do with the issue and different perspectives.

“It was a good lesson in finding that information, but also because you start to realise how nuanced all the issues really are. They're not black and white.

“Doing this topic felt fulfilling. I was able to apply my passion for road safety and get that message out there while getting credits towards NCEA. People have seen the report and perhaps it’s had some sway in making a decision. Even if it's minor, it's just really cool to see that what we do in high school can still have an effect on the world.”

A local SADD network, with pizza!

Holly Hullena from the Wairarapa Road Safety Council facilitates a regional group of SADD chapters that involves students from different secondary schools getting together to plan road safety campaigns.

“They share their stories and uplift each other. They work together on community initiatives and get that empowerment to drive their groups back in their own schools,” says Holly.

“I’m really passionate about lifting up young people’s voices. The membership has grown. It is seen as a leadership role in schools now. SADD is seen as one of the roles that students aspire to.”

James got involved in 2019, she says.

“That started with coaxing him into a meeting with free pizza while he was waiting outside school one day. I didn’t know when he came to that initial meeting that he had a personal experience with road trauma. I just think I found the right person at the right time.

“He had connections in his school and had passion to share the message with as many people as possible and bring as many people with him as he could. He wasn’t the sort of person to think he had to do everything by himself. He knows about strength in numbers.”

James subsequently won a Youth Award from the Masterton District Council. He says his SADD campaigning days showed him that encouraging good habits from a young age can lead to positive choices later. He gives the example of working with junior students – before they get their learners or restricted driver licence – on the importance of sticking to licence conditions.

“Now they are driving, but as far as I'm aware, they haven't taken passengers on their restricted. And when asked, they have refused. Really cool to see, it’s that peer-to-peer connection at work.”

Scope for more road safety contexts across NCEA

Nigel Bailey says geography involved thinking about patterns – both temporal and spatial – and local road safety topics can support this, with queries such as where crashes occur, and how traffic levels change with the time of day.

“I would like to see more of our students looking at road safety. It’s certainly something that I’m very aware of and I think Year 12 and 13 students in particular need to be more aware of because they are starting to drive.”

James says he wasn’t the only SADD National Leader last year doing NCEA units on road safety topics – another leader did so in media studies, for example.

“For teachers, even in other subjects, it’s about encouraging students to see that road safety is an option," he says. "And an option that is extremely relevant nowadays. I think if teachers encourage it, students will be more open to it and they'll gain a better understanding for what the issue is and everything that surrounds it.

“For students, if you want to do road safety for one of your subjects, just ask, because a lot of the time your teachers will let you, especially in Year 12 and 13, where most of your learning is personally driven.”

Further resources

You can view more curriculum examples on the SADD website:

Road safety in the curriculum (SADD)(external link)

The Education Portal has curriculum resources for secondary teachers. Here are two of relevance to geography.

Open data for student projects

The Open Data Portal has data on vehicles, crashes and real-time information on road events affecting traffic. Data sets such as the Crash Analysis System are mapped using ArcGIS.

Developing community transport solutions

This project will walk students and teachers through the process of designing a solution to an issue within their transport community. 

See also:

Wairarapa Road Safety Council(external link)

SH2 Wairarapa highway improvements(external link)

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