Increased funding is presently coming into Hawke’s Bay from central government that is directly targeted at retaining our young people in education, training and/or work. With this, the key challenges from my perspective for 2010 will be:

  • How can we make the best possible use of these funds for the benefit of youth and the region?
  • And how can organisations in Hawke’s Bay join forces to strengthen their capability to deliver on some very important educational challenges that the government funding is intended to address?

There is much that is gloomy about educational and employment statistics for the region’s young people. In a nutshell, we continue to be over-represented in terms of the numbers of youth unemployed, and under-represented in terms of higher qualifications in the same age group.

Despite this, we now have more opportunities than ever before to address these critical issues, and there are some fantastic organisations and people in Hawke’s Bay who are getting on with doing just that.

EIT had the privilege of working with two visionary Principals, Geraldine Travers from Hastings Girls’ High School and Brian Simpson from Wairoa College during 2009. Both developed creative initiatives aimed at encouraging senior secondary students to stay in education longer by revitalising their interest in learning. The common ingredient: combining in-classroom secondary studies with out-of-class experiences.

In the first project, EIT worked alongside the Agriculture ITO, the Wairoa Community Trust and local Wairoa farmers to support Wairoa College Principal Brian Simpson’s vision of establishing an Agriculture Academy in Wairoa. While enrolled in and based at school, 20 plus students spent time completing the theory and practical work on farms necessary to complete a Level 2 qualification in Agriculture, along with their Level 2 NCEA studies.

The results exceeded all expectations – nearly all students not only remained on the course, they completed the qualification. Nearly all intend to return to school this year. Some want to now complete a Level 3 Agriculture qualification. Anecdotal information has also included some great stories about the relationships forged between the farming community and the students and their families.

In the second example, Geraldine Travers at Hastings Girls’ High School committed to another pilot programme that saw eighteen senior students attend EIT for one day per week all year to work toward a hospitality qualification.

Again, the results were outstanding. Nearly all the girls remained in the programme and at school; most achieved Level 2 NCEA with the help of the vocational credits they gained; and some won special awards. Of the original eighteen students, fifteen intend to be back at school this year, and two of the leavers have taken up industry apprenticeships. And again anecdotal information added that everyone involved with the students, including school staff and their families, noticed a marked increase in their confidence, motivation and sense of direction once they were on the programme.

This is exciting stuff for all of us, not the least because short planning timelines meant that none of the organisations involved really knew in full how the projects were going to work when we started – and none of us had any “extra” money to do it. Basically we followed the mantra of “just do it” and we did, and we are delighted with the results.

So these projects have given me huge confidence in what can be achieved if people get together with a common purpose – to address educational under-achievement of more than 20% of the region’s young people – and work hard to do something about it. We listened and watched as the students who may have become yet another bad news statistic in the fabric of Hawke’s Bay blossomed into confident learners who achieved more than they, and many of us had expected. These are the young people that we can make the most difference with, and they will be critical to the future of the Hawke’s Bay economy.

If I’ve learned anything from the pilot projects with Wairoa College and Hastings Girls’ High School, it’s that there are some critical characteristics of working together for youth that seem to support success:

First, fresh eyes: We need to look at our “at risk” young people as having tremendous potential to achieve and contribute to the region – if only we are prepared to offer them an alternative to the mainstream education programmes that are failing to interest and engage them.

Second, a “just do it” attitude: The courage to implement and learn as we go, within acceptable risks, then plan in more detail for future iterations according to what we learn.

Third, goodwill: The willingness to work with other organisations that may have different ways of operating and to look for common ground within our common vision for our young people.

By identifying people with these attributes, and supporting a collaborative approach to the issues facing our young people, organisations across Hawke’s Bay have very real and exciting opportunities to meet the educational challenges ahead of us in 2010 and beyond.

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