Levin's Waiopehu College has pulled a miracle out of a hat. At this college kids of all ages actually enjoy going to school. In fact many now show a real eagerness to be at school. To achieve that the school curriculum has had a radical overhaul.
"No-one is excluded." "There is more time to interact across age groups." "There is much more choice." "You are no longer the only one interested in a topic." "We have a positive start to the day" are some of the comments students have recently been making about their future focused curriculum.
This miracle has been eight months in the making, said principal Mark Robinson.
"School used to be about credits for many. We did a survey among students, parents and local employers to find out what they really wanted from us.
"For many junior students school was boring, we found, and some employers said our graduates do not have the skills they are looking for in new staff."
"We discovered that those aiming for university were fine. They were very well served by our curriculum and will continue to be, but those looking for jobs after college needed to be better connected with the wider world.
"Schools tend to want to assess stuff and as a result we taught to the test. That can be limiting. Now we have found a way to make learning exciting and then we assess how they do. We made the curriculum engaging and now they can do what they love."
Nurture, inspire and empower are core values at 'Pehu College and the new curriculum has been designed around those values.
Students now start their day with electives, followed by numeracy and literacy. During the second half of the day they do courses, and while some are compulsory, they can choose from arts, English, languages, maths, health and physical education, science, social science or technology.
Electives are divided in physical, arts, cultural, practical vocational, academic, project, service and hobby.
Waiopehu is hoping that the new curriculum helps students see the value in what they study because they can see where something like maths fits into every day life.
"They can now combine sport with maths, for example, and they start their day doing what they love," said Robinson.
That means sport, coaching, singing, dancing, cooking, woodworking, barista training, but also anatomy, languages, gardening, money management, robotics, animation, event organisation, film club or community service.
Some of the students are studying podcasting and thanks to the studio at Youth Space they can also make podcasts and they do that to a weekly theme. Others do mechanics and police studies is something that is coming soon to the school.
The latter will show them what police officers do and are a good introduction to the profession for those thinking of joining the police.
It is a level three course and will allow them to do some of the paperwork required to get into Police College.
They can do vet studies.
"We realised there was a disconnect between what they learn in school and the real world, both in junior school and for those leaving school," Robinson said.
One podcasting student, Niko, said he thinks the new curriculum is a good idea.
"I enjoy it very much and find it rewarding. It is so relevant."
Courtney, who loves sport said, "It is great I get to do sport at least once a day.
"We didn't see what school was setting us up for. There was no purpose to what we were learning, it was all about credits."
Now they start school playing golf or surfing or doing crossfit and many students appear to be keen on physical fitness.
"It is great that can be done at school now. I do not have to get up really early, drive to a sport school or club to train, so I have more time during the day."
Other students dance in school time or do film directing or start a business.
"Parents wanted their kids to be well connected, happy, confident and be taught good values," said Robinson. "The NCEA qualification was not at the top of their list."
"We were looking for a better outcome for many of our students and realised that if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you will never change the outcome.
"All students do literacy and numeracy but that doesn't necessarily mean English or maths, and as a results those subjects can now be far more creative. They are free to connect to theatre, film or sport, for example."
"We want to our students to find out what they are passionate about while they are at school, rather than five years later."
Even for language buffs there is more on offer as the school now offers French and Spanish.
Students enjoy that the curriculum is not rigid anymore and they are able to do things outside of the curriculum.
"There is more purpose to school and we have a positive start to the day."
Some other outcomes include the opportunity to bond more as a group. And year nine and ten students mix and mingle now they do courses and electives.
"Suddenly older students are taking to younger ones, because they share an interest."
"It is more like the workplace, where you have to work with people from all ages and walks of life."
Sports coordinator Matthew Good said his department is booming.
"There are more opportunities now. They learn how the sport sector works, learn about nutrition and concussion." Soon the coaching students will be working in local primary schools coaching sport.
Waiopehu College has always been big on sport and now with the new curriculum has even more sports teams. There are seven volleyball teams, six netball teams as well as rugby, football and hockey teams.
"In the first semester they do theory and the second semester is all about practical sessions, where they can focus on a sport. Manawatū Sport is doing a case study with us," said Good.
The students said they believe the new curriculum makes it is easier for teachers to teach in groups, rather than in huge class rooms.
"Everyone learns at a different pace and smaller groups allow them to do that."
Robinson said parents want they kids to be happy in school, have fun, grow in confidence and learn to get on with everyone.
"There is a lot you cannot learn in a text book," said Robinson and the interaction resulting from the new curriculum are stimulating that.
Some of the older students are still adjusting to the new regime and admit some worry initially.
"We have done the same thing for four years and now it is all different. I am still getting used to that," said Caitlin. The big advantage appears to be that most courses they do, they do because they want to.
So far the verdict from many students on the new future-focused curriculum is that "fun is back at school," and "we wish we got to this earlier".