There's eager faces, excitable chatter, and energetic spirits. It's the 2 hours each week these children look forward to most – time out of the classroom using their hands to make something that is uniquely their own creation.
But this isn't a normal school lesson. This is the ICONZ Edge programme, run by The Boys Brigade in three schools around the Western Bay. The programme uses hands-on activities, primarily woodworking, to engage boys who are on the edge and struggling in school; helping shift how they feel about learning, and themselves.
Stu Thompson leads the programme, and has done for the past ten years. A carpenter by trade, Stu says there is real demand for what they are doing.
"There is such great need out there with boys. We see kids that come from difficult backgrounds that have a wide range of needs, misbehaving in school. They're on their electronics all the time, not developing hand-eye coordination or building stuff – their creativity is suffering. The ICONZ Edge programme is all about supporting boys who are hand-picked by their schools to give them a bit more guidance."
From bird feeders and lamps, to Lego tables and giant Connect 4, with the support of Stu and volunteers, the children build practical and impressive creations for their school or to take home.
And it's not just woodworking. Other life skills such as filleting fish, learning how to cook, or even getting out and enjoying nature together, all help the boys grow. Along the way they learn to get along with other students they wouldn't usually relate to, and improve their attitudes towards school, staff and learning.
"Quite often I hear the boys say, 'this is the best day of my life, I don't want to do school', and I tell them, 'but you are doing schoolwork.' Something just clicks, and it changes their paradigms," says Stu.
"They learn that they can learn, they're not incapable, they are just wired differently. Some kids need to be using their creativity and hands, and feel fulfilled by doing that. We're transforming learning for these boys by showing them another way to do things, to connect and to get back to basics."
The programme is brought to schools in the ICONZ Workshop – an enclosed trailer that houses all the tools and equipment. Wood is precut for the boys by dedicated volunteers, and guidance is given around how to use saws, drills, hammers and more.
ICONZ Edge has been in schools across the Western Bay, including Bellevue amd St Thomas Moore, and while now in Merivale Primary, Welcome Bay Primary, and Arataki Primary, the programme is in high demand. While there are other schools are asking for it, one thing in dire need is volunteers.
"Getting volunteers has been challenging. It's an incredibly rewarding role, especially seeing that spark when these boys click and get it. If anyone is interested in volunteering, whether it's just a couple of hours a week, or a whole afternoon, we'd love for them to get in touch."
After lockdown, the schools reached out asking for the programme to come back as soon as possible. With many children anxious and apprehensive about returning to school, it would play an important part in supporting their return – particularly for those boys identified as being at risk following the extended period away, with home experiences that may not have been positive.
The Boys Brigade NZ sought funding through the Rapid Response Fund to run the ICONZ Edge programme for an additional day per week in the schools.
With $8,600 in funding received through the joint fund established by TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust and Tauranga City Council, ICONZ Edge has been able to assist 28 children to feel motivated and reengaged with school.
"We couldn't do what we do without support from our local funders, and we are incredibly lucky to have the support of the Greerton & Mount Maunganui Lions Clubs, TECT, Acorn and BayTrust for our regular operating costs. This additional funding has been vital, allowing us to support these children through this difficult time of change," says Stu.
The funders have now moved to phase two of their COVID-19 funding support with the WBOP COVID-19 Recovery Fund. Applications are now open at https://www.tect.org.nz/covid-19-recovery-fund/.