Service academies could be the answer for wayward youth

The Maōri leader of a school services academy is backing National's plan to create more military programmes for at-risk youth.

National put that policy forward last year as ram raids and other crimes by young teenagers grew.

That came as New Zealand youth dealt with the pressures and stresses caused by Covid-19 and the lockdowns, with rising truancy from schools, more school dropouts and the increase in youth crime.

National MPs' solution: militaristic style youth courses for at-risk youth to try to introduce structured learning with boundaries and purpose.

And Donovan Bickford (Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungunu), the services academy director at Glenfield College, agrees.

He said by creating a student-centred family environment, the student's chance of success increased, with the Ministry of Education showing an 80% NCEA level two completion rate for students doing such courses.

'A sense of purpose'

“The un-recordable success is in increased confidence, self-esteem, communication, teamwork and fitness.”

Bickford said the service academy teaching method provided a holistic approach to education, with matauranga Māori values woven into the course, along with core values of the New Zealand Defence Force - courage, commitment, comradeship and Integrity, which were demonstrated daily.

Bickford, who spent 12 years in the Royal New Zealand Navy, said the military style of training created "a sense of belonging and purpose, and students learn where boundaries are and how they can push close to these physically”.

The service academy course run at Glenfield College spends half of its teaching time focusing on physical fitness and the other half on tailor-made programmes for each student to work toward.

“Students learn how to respect each other's personal space. It creates a team, and gives students an experience that most young people would never have.”

The academy has had success with graduating students joining the NZ Defence Force, attending university and polytech courses, and other forms of employment.

More schools needed

The course is open for students 16 and older but Bickford said they had enquiries about enrolling children as young as 13- and 14-year-olds.

“There should be more in-school militaristic programmes for at-risk schools. Both the success academically and the support networks within schools are very positive; also in-school programmes are less expensive than private business-run programmes.”