Education does not have to stop if you leave school. The Salvation Army held a graduation in Oamaru recently for young people in its education and employment-plus programme. Shannon Gillies was there.
On September 28, about 15 Oamaru people graduated with NCEA level 1 and 2.
That might not sound like a big number, but in reality it is huge for the people involved.
These graduates took part in an education programme run for the Salvation Army Training Centre by tutor and manager Joseph Cropley, who has been involved with the programme for about six years.
Mr Cropley said he always felt happy when he saw people achieve.
“A lot of them come with low self-confidence and then when they leave – it’s just different people.”
Former New Zealand Race Relations Conciliator and diplomat Gregory Fortuin, who is now the Salvation Army’s education and employment national director, came to the Oamaru ceremony.
He said it was important to be at the ceremony to support the students.
“I flew from Wellington to Dunedin and drove from Dunedin to here. You only get to speak for five to 10 minutes. These people will always feel they have a sense of self-worth because we’ve touched their lives.
“My son often says, ‘Why all the effort?’ and I say, ‘Because I care’. When I was a young person in South Africa, there was an older, illiterate man who was a mentor to me and my two brothers. We three grew up without a father.”
Mr Fortuin said for many students, the graduation ceremony would be the first time anyone had recognised their work or given them a certificate.
“We are often the last train leaving the station for these people .. but they’re somebody’s kid.”
The programme was broken into two branches. Students aged 16 to 19 had the opportunity to complete their NCEA level 1 and 2, and others focused on things like computer skills to enhance employment prospects.
The course ran for 40 weeks, Mr Fortuin said, but the first 20 weeks were set down to get people ready to learn.
Makayla Johnston (18) gained her NCEA level 2, and by the end of the year was hoping to have completed some business papers.
She was aspiring to become a hairdresser and one day run her own business.
“It’s been a passion of mine for a few years.”
At first, the course was daunting, as she had not been around her peers for about a year.
“I was a fulltime mum. At first, it was really nerve-wracking, but everyone was welcoming.
“My partner was doing the course. He was the bit of push I needed.”
The course was a pathway to a qualification and future employment, Miss Johnston said.
Anybody could enrol, and the learning environment was enjoyable.
“The tutors don’t focus on one learning style. They focus on all learning styles. They make sure everybody understands and everyone can learn.”
Learoy Karamaena (17) came to the course after dropping out of school.
Last week, he gained NCEA level 1.
“It’s a fantastic course. I don’t think I’ll ever find another course like this.”
He spoke highly of the tutors and fellow students.
“I’ve always known Joe. He’s been like family to me.”
He left school with no qualifications after his friends left and it no longer felt like a place he could go after losing social support.
“I was a bit depressed.”
He enrolled on the course following guidance from his mother, who was worried about his employment prospects, and friends.
Mr Karamaena urged other people who had fallen out of mainstream education to enrol in the next Salvation Army course to help better their employment prospects.
“You can get level 1 or 2 computing skills that can take you a fair way, and Joe will never give up on you.”
Life at home had also improved for him since he enrolled and became engaged in education.
“My mum’s pretty happy now.”
Mr Fortuin likened the course to a story his mother used to tell him.
If the car is stuck in the mud, there were two options: the driver could put more effort into getting the car out, or change their attitude.
“We’re the people who push the car out of the mud,” Mr Fortuin said.
“These young people have been stuck because mainstream has failed them – not them failing mainstream. One size will never fit all.
“Once they’re out of the mud, we can get them their 120 credits. They have achieved, in spite of all of the challenges they faced.”