Teens gain much from academy

JOANNE BENNETT
Last updated 05:00 14/12/2013
opihi services academy
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/ Fairfax NZ

PROUD 'FAMILY': The Opihi Services Academy have had a life-changing year. Back, from left, Nikolas Dromgool, Ben Krouse, Jeremiah Tor-Kilsen, Jamie Mason, Laz Gerrard. Middle, Anthony Ross, Liam Atwill, Hannah Preddy. Front, Makaira Keene, Justis Kirkwood, Willie Hetaraka and director Stacey McVeigh.

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Timaru's Opihi Services Academy is setting the standard for other service academies in New Zealand, according to director Stacey McVeigh.

Thirteen of the 16 students who started the course have completed it. Other service academies have been through upwards of 25 students.

"That's a pretty good sign we're doing a good job," Miss McVeigh said.

The students agree the course has changed their lives for the better.

"This year I've done things I thought I could never do," the group's only female member, Hannah Preddy, said. "I feel determined to actually do something with my life, rather than just chillin'."

Hannah led her fellow teenagers on the service academy's Coast to Coast, the pinnacle of a year's training.

As they ran into the sea south of Christchurch, they were overcome with a sense of pride and achievement.

Starting on the West Coast, they travelled 251km by foot, bicycle, and raft to reach the East Coast in just three days.

"They carry a stone from Kumara on the West Coast and throw it into the ocean when they get to the other side," Miss McVeigh said.

The academy takes students who are not performing well at school and prepares them for entry into the armed forces.

"It's a really touching moment to see these kids who have come from nowhere, that couldn't even do a run on the first day, to having just done 251km in three days.

"You can see how far they've come, and they can see that too. It's a real sense of achievement."

"It made my nana cry at the beach," Makaira Keene said.

They were competing against service academies from Greymouth, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill, and although they came in second, Miss McVeigh believes they were the best-performing team.

"The standards and the commitment of this team is incredible," she said.

These guys are all turning up at eight in the morning and leaving at five - they only have to be here from nine till three."

The positive behaviour goes beyond the course too. Miss McVeigh knows her students have been looking after their peers at parties, and stopping fights.

She said the team had become much like a family, and the students agreed.

"The best thing about this course is it's given me a sense of belonging," Makaira said.

"Opihi has given us so much, it's the least we can do to try our hardest and give them respect back, with our behaviour in and out of the course."

"None of us have gone through anything alone," Hannah said.

The intake of 16 for next year is full, which Miss McVeigh believes is testament to the academy's growing positive reputation in the community.

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- The Timaru Herald

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