Finding Potential

Heather Daly is a woman who sees the potential in people – especially young people. Mother-of-three and an experienced school teacher, Heather says she was always is aware of kids who didn’t easily slot into mainstream education.   four years ago she took on the role of Principal Tutor at the Salvation Army Education and Employment campus in Ashburton, providing an NCEA education and career qualifications for kids who’ve temporarily lost their way. She talks to essence about helping our kids believe and achieve.

‘Potential’ is a word that slips repeatedly from Heather’s lips. In four years she has seen a great deal of kids come and go through her classrooms, and every one of them she rates a success. “They arrive here needing someone to care, someone to recognise them as individuals, to listen and to help. That’s what I do. I care.”

“People think that coming here is for dummies, but they’re so wrong,” she says. “The kids here are brave and they want to succeed. They’re full of (that word) potential.”

“It’s tough being a kid these days,” she says. “We’re all so busy being busy that we sometimes don’t notice our kids slipping behind. Mainstream education is about sitting still and listening, and not every kid fits that mould. In a busy classroom they can easily get left behind.”

Under Heather’s tutelage, the Salvation Army E&E programme runs two fully-funded courses: Careers and Computing, and Hospitality and Tourism, with NCEA levels 1 and 2 Literacy and Numeracy woven in. It’s not religious, but certain standards of behaviour are required.

Classes are from 8.45 – 3.00 five days a week and students are expected to be on time every day. There’s a strict dress code, no swearing, no drugs or alcohol. No one is allowed to touch anyone else’s stuff. “The kids monitor it themselves and pull others into line if they overstep the boundaries.”

The remains of breakfast are obvious in the kitchen; there are ginger kisses ready for morning tea; posters created by the students line the walls; a local policeman wanders through and stops to chat. “I think he’s bored,” one of the kids laughs.

“Kids feel like they have a family here. First day students come in not knowing anyone, and by morning tea they’re talking to someone non-stop. Classes always have a supportive vibe. If someone doesn’t know something, another student will often step in and help. It’s immensely rewarding to see. We do a lot of talking and sharing of ideas. It’s learning by trying things out in a supportive environment”

Heather says that 50% of the students come directly from mainstream school and 50% have left school before realising they need to gain basic levels of education. Referrals come mainly from Ashburton College. Parents also bring their kids in. “I have a few ‘tough nuts’ here and I have nerdy kids too. For whatever reason, they’ve all been branded as ‘misfits’ but they all just want one thing – for someone to see past the superficial to the (here it is again) potential.”

Classes include outdoor activities such as trips to Te Mona Gorge and to Oamaru to compete in sports against the Timaru campus. The programme also cares for student’s mental health needs, with support workers and agencies able to be called upon if needed.

Qualifications gained are recognised by employers and are qualifications that can be built on at CPIT in Christchurch etc.   The programme has support from many local business owners, who interview and mentor students into work.

Most parents are actively involved and Heather keeps them updated with every positive achievement via texts, phone calls and notes popped into letterboxes. “Most of our parents really care. I’ve had some in here crying, they’re so grateful to have their kids back succeeding.”

Heather is herself noticeably emotional as we pause by a massive photo board, thick with photos of smiling past students. Among the successful graduates are builders, painters, hairdressers, a vet nurse, irrigation workers, farm labourers, as well as many who’ve returned to college to complete NCEA Level 3 and onto CPIT. Many are now familiar faces on campus, returning to share their ongoing successes.

My short visit certainly feels, welcoming. The kids are chatty and open about the reasons they’re there, and their future hopes. I’m impressed.

“These kids learn life and work skills; they make life-long friends and gain qualifications that can take them anywhere. I simply help them find the path back to their potential: the confidence to believe, and achieve.” Heather says.




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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.