The leaders of tomorrow

August 2013

 

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JUDE BARBACK chats with student leaders from Hamilton Boys’ High School about leadership, their aspirations, NCEA, and our education system.

 

I’d been prepared to forego my visit to Hamilton Boys’ High School when I learned that it was their annual swimming sports day. Surely the last thing they wanted was a journalist interrupting students from the fun and competition? However, headmaster Susan Hassall was insistent; “I don’t want our boys to miss out. I’d like them to have a voice,” she’d said.

So it transpired on a hot February Friday afternoon that I found myself walking towards the roar of the school pool. At first I couldn’t put my finger on what was different from my own memories of school swimming sports, and then it came to me – there were no feminine squeals and shrieks to be heard. The house haka competition in the middle of the day had apparently been a sight to behold, or so at least four people told me during my visit. I was disappointed to have missed it, but pleased that three of the school’s student leaders were willing to give me half an hour out of their day for a quick chat.

Having just been announced as the school’s student leaders a week ago, it was evident the boys – young men really – were still getting used to their roles.

Sam Franicevic, the head boy, said there was no disputing he felt honoured to be in a position where he has the power to affect change, to make things happen, “I’m keen to make a difference,” he said.

The two deputy head boys, Oliver Wilding and Khalid Gilbert, agreed.

In keeping with my expectations of student leaders, all three were pleasant, polite, and confident. Also in keeping with the stereotypes, they appeared to be “all rounders”, succeeding in academic, sporting, and musical fields. However, they each had their forte and different subject interests; in fact, they didn’t share a single class with each other. I suggested this was perhaps no accident, and they agreed. Their diverse strengths echo the school’s system of committees. Instead of a school council, there are arts, service, leadership, sports, and academic committees, which are run by student prefects.

There are opportunities for students to get involved with the committees throughout their time at Hamilton Boys’. Leadership isn’t something students have to wait until they get to Year 13 to experience.

At the end of the year, when the senior students leave to prepare for exams, a selection of Year 10 students are elected as junior leaders. It comes as no surprise to me that the three boys sitting in front of me were all junior leaders. Leadership is something intrinsic, a quality that results in likeability and trust. These three have it in spades.

They had all aspired to be student leaders. “I can remember all the head students since I was in Year 9,” said Wilding.

It must be good for the ego, too, I cheekily suggested, and they laughed.

Franicevic admitted that he does feel important in his new role; he said the dress code plays a part in this. The head prefects get to wear “full number ones”, so there is certainly an element of prestige with this. I am intrigued by how a sharp suit is clearly a powerful motif of leadership, even at the tender age of 17.

Wilding said there is a strong emphasis on tradition at Hamilton Boys’. Rules that might appear archaic to some schools are respected and upheld here. Hair must be kept short; faces must be clean shaven.

Gilbert admits that as a younger student, he didn’t understand the emphasis placed on grooming. “To be honest, I didn’t see the point of all that when I was younger. But I get it now; I see why it is important.”

Straight from the agenda of a student leadership camp, I asked the boys about their role models, with the proviso that they couldn’t pick their parents or Richie McCaw. Their choices, I thought, reflected their personal leadership styles.

Wilding selected Howard Broad, former Police Commissioner, because he “took a hard line while gaining respect”. Franicevic, almost embarrassed at selecting someone so obvious, chose US President Barack Obama for his ability to relate to so many different types of people and for his gift of public speaking – something Franicevic believes is an important skill for a leader to possess.

With similar discomfiture, Gilbert selected their headmaster Mrs Hassall as his role model; the other two emphatically approved this choice and a bevy of praise ensued: “She’s such an inspiring leader”, “She leads by example”, “We’re so lucky to have had her as our headmaster”, and the ultimate, “She’s caring and she loves us.”

Like their head, Franicevic said he sees his role as an opportunity to interact with everyone in the school.

Gilbert agreed. “It is a pleasure working with the boys and getting to know them personally.”

Granted it’s unlikely the students were going to disparage their headmaster or school, but I truly got the feeling they rated their education here. Franicevic and Wilding have had experience of schools in Spain and Argentina, respectively, and both were fairly scathing about the standard of teaching and learning.

I’m intrigued by how little the ‘problems’ that have dominated the New Zealand education sector over the past year have affected these students. They even seem slightly vague on the debates surrounding charter schools, class sizes, performance pay, Novopay, and so on.

They do have a lot to say about NCEA, however.

At Hamilton Boys’ High School, students are given the opportunity to take both NCEA and the Cambridge examination system. “There isn’t really a difference in the subject material, but there is in how you study for the exams,” said Wilding.

The boys didn’t seem to favour one system over the other, although Franicevic believed the questions for NCEA should be given more consideration, stating that some are unnecessarily long and wordy.

They all agreed that you can learn how to “play” both systems.

The consensus seemed to be that doing the two in parallel is hard work but worth it. Some are better suited to NCEA, some to Cambridge – doing both allows ultimately more chance of success.

Franicevic is a strong advocate for taking NCEA earlier, in year 10, if given the opportunity in certain subjects.

When asked what pieces of advice he would give to a Year 9 student, this was one of them: “It’s important to take the subjects you like, but maintain the core subjects to keep options open to you,” he said.

I think back to my decision many years ago to substitute statistics with Japanese at Bursary level, and I have to agree with him.

Wilding’s advice is about getting involved in everything you can. “There are plenty of opportunities to be had, but they don’t necessarily fall into your lap,” he says.

Gilbert said he thinks it is important to put in the work early on. As someone who “slacked around in the first few years”, he thinks younger students will benefit in the long run from developing a good work ethic early on.

There wasn’t much sign of any slacking around anymore ─ they all had very clear ideas of what they will do next. Wilding had hopes of obtaining a Hillary scholarship, which with its co-curricular emphasis, should allow him to pursue his musical ambitions and a degree in management at Waikato University. Franicevic was keen to take a gap year and teach English and music in Spain. A keen baseball player, Gilbert had his sights set on pursuing a sporting scholarship at a US university.

After half an hour, I’m conscious that I’m taking up valuable swimming sports time. I’m also conscious (at the risk of name-dropping) that I have a meeting on the other side of Hamilton in which the PM will be attending that I’d rather not miss. So I start to wind things up, yet the boys are eager to add bits and pieces to the interview, to contribute things that spring to mind. They have so much to share, so much ahead of them. As I drive from these three aspiring young leaders to meet New Zealand’s most prominent leader, I reflect that if student leaders are all of this calibre, our country is in safe hands.

 

 

Pupils and politics

Tauranga Girls’ College student, EMILY McCARTHY, reflects on the importance of Youth Parliament.

I was never really aware of Youth Parliament until this year when the time came for applications to be made to the local Bay of Plenty MP, Tony Ryall. When I saw the first poster sporting the phrase “Be Heard”, I thought to myself “that sounds like something for me!” After a bit more research, I discovered that once every three years, 121 students are selected to represent the 121 MPs across the nation and take part in two days in a mock parliament setting in Wellington during the July holidays. This seemed to me like an incredible opportunity. Not only would I have the opportunity to combine a desire to express my opinions and the opinions of people in my community, I would also have the chance to learn about the proceedings of parliament in the most effective way possible - being a part of them!

I have always considered political awareness as important for young New Zealanders. It is vital for us to be able to understand how our country is organised and why it is organised this way. It allows youth to bring issues to the forefront of leaders minds through the correct political channels. It means that, when we turn eighteen, our votes will not be wasted – they will represent what we believe in and how we want New Zealand to be. In a nutshell, political awareness amongst youth is important as it means that we will “Be Heard.”

In my opinion, the most important issues facing government at present are the capacity to balance the economic and social growth being demanded with sustainability of New Zealand and the natural taonga we possess. Without the environment and resources that New Zealand has traditionally managed to sustain, economic and social development is impossible, and so these must all exist in an intricate balance for prosperity in New Zealand to eventuate.

In July, I hope to gain a first-hand understanding of the inner workings of Parliament. As a New Zealand citizen, all I really see from parliament is the product. I see bills passed. I see laws controlling my actions. I see new leaders elected. But I don’t experience the efforts behind the scenes to make this possible. It will be an incredible opportunity to be able to understand the effort behind the products of parliament. It will also definitely assist me in considering to what extent I want to incorporate politics into my future.

To me, leadership is the ability to lead by example. A leader should never be somebody who delegates everything, issues commands and imperatives, and expects their orders to be taken without a single grain of salt. Leaders should begin by living and behaving in a manner that they want others to follow and that others look up to so that their leadership arises from people desiring to follow their example as opposed to others being forced to follow their orders. Of course, this can often be a challenge because leaders are almost constantly in the spotlight and so have to ensure that their every action reflects how they want to be viewed and the ideals they hope to achieve. But I believe that ambition coupled with a powerful motivation can cause leaders to rise up and elicit the change they want to see in the world.


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