A huge goal for the students of Horowhenua College's Services Academy was achieved last week when they won the annual endurance challenge trophy for the first time in 12 years.
The students spent a week in Rotorua with 12 other high schools from the lower North Island, enjoying a range of activities such as white-water rafting, tramping, and mountain biking.
The endurance event took place on Thursday, a nine-hour day that started with a 6km "tough guy, tough girl" type mud run.
"It was a hard slog on undulating farmland that included swamps, ditches, and electric wire," explained Services Academy director Ray Hunia, "with each team being scored on the time it took them to complete [the course]."
The rest of the day was spent on an Olympic Games-style series of activities, which included a spelling bee, having to eat dry Weet-Bix, and a range of physical exercises.
There are 18 students enrolled in the college's Services Academy this year, six females and 12 males, but due to Covid restrictions only 10 were allowed to represent the school at the endurance challenge.
One of the lucky 10, head boy Joel Paxton, entered the Services Academy last year as a year 12 student.
"Mainstream wasn't my fit, but I found a whānau here ... and I just stuck with it," said Paxton, "what we have here today ... the awards we've received ... proves we're not just dropouts and these [preconceived] stereotypes [mean] nothing."
Jessica Stokes is also in her second year at the academy and enjoyed the opportunity for a last catch-up with students from other services academies before she graduated.
Sammy Chasteauneuf, year 13, dreamed of becoming a police officer, but after completing the academy induction course at the beginning of last year, realised the military life was a perfect fit for her.
All three students found the courses and challenges this year heaps of fun, and after winning four trophies and several first places they are, as Paxton said, "leaving a legacy for 2021".
Services academies are military-focused programmes delivered within secondary schools, with funding from the Ministry of Education, which also contracts the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) youth development unit to provide a range of motivating and challenging learning experiences.
The target group is year 12 and 13 students (in particular Māori and Pasifika boys) who are at risk of disengaging or have disengaged from school.
This educational concept began at Aranui College, Christchurch, in 1999, and Horowhenua College came on board in 2009.
Horowhenua College has 20 places available each year in the 12-month-long Services Academy programme.