'Good news' as ChangeWorks gets troubled boys back on the rails.

The boys who enter the silent classroom where their parents wait struggle to muster the solemnity that the occasion demands. They peep round the door, then scurry, lope, shuffle or strut to their front-row seats, like child actors auditioning for a part in a comedy.

But they're engaged in serious business here. At the front of the room, framed by large palm fronds and above a blanket folded as a makeshift stand-in for a red carpet, is a sheepskin-lined throne on which each boy will take his turn to sit.

The occasion is a graduation ceremony at Waikowhai Primary School in Mt Roskill, one of 15 schools where the seven-week course, called Kiwi Kids has been run over the past eight years.

The boys who have completed the course under the supervision of men from a West Auckland organisation called ChangeWorks have long been what you and I might describe as a bloody handful. But this is a day for saluting what group leader Andrew Shaw describes as "eight lovely young men".


"I take my hat off to these boys," says another of the course leaders, Dirk Judson. "And to their teacher too," he adds with a nod to Room 8 teacher, Matthew Riceman. "You must be a saint."

One by one the boys take turns at enthronement. If they thought walking into the room was a challenge, you can see that some of them find this almost unbearable. Feet that can't reach the ground swing with impatience to escape such unmediated attention. There's some giggling, more shy smiling.

But Shaw, Riceman and parents take turn to praise the boys for the qualities they have displayed.

One boy is commended for his playfulness, another for his careful approach, another for the way he looks after his mates. A Tongan boy's mother says he is "a good boy at home and a great help to his mum".

A father -- the only one in attendance -- tells his son that "I feel very proud hearing all these nice things said about you. I love you, boy."

Shaw contacted me about the course after the killing in June of Henderson dairy owner Arun Kumar, in connection with which two boys, aged 12 and 13, have been charged. It excited huge media attention and Shaw wondered whether we might like to tell "a good news story": youngsters going off the rails in battalions are hauled back on one by one.

A few days after the graduation, Shaw explains that the course is aimed at boys in transition -- in this case in the final year of primary school and about to step up to intermediate.

"Often at this age, they are already starting to opt out of school," he says. "Even if they are not truanting, they are often only there physically.


"The longer they stay at school the better the outcome, even if they are not getting qualifications. They are learning to have a conversation, about taking turns, about working together."

Shaw says the course focuses on teaching the boys "emotional literacy". Working with animals is "a way into understanding human needs and understanding where your feelings come from".

"They also get to tell some of their stories, about where they come from and where they have got to as 9-year-old boys. Some of that group have been together since they were 6 months old so they have worked out a lot of strategies for holding each other where they are.

"They come as a group and they return as a group, so we try to get them to experience themselves differently in relationship to their peers."

Shaw makes the point that for some participants from solo-parent homes, the course is "the first time they have been listened to and paid attention to by an older man [other than their teacher] who is not angry with them".

Significantly, no one is claiming instant and miraculous transformations are happening here. Principal Germaine Peterson supports the concept but tells me this group was a tough nut to crack. But Shaw says gratifying outcomes happen in small steps.

"You can see it in how they stand and present themselves. The idea is that it will make them more respectful and more attentive to others, taking turns with things rather than demanding attention.

"They are still going to push boundaries, as young people do, but hopefully they won't get into trouble so much."