An education programme for at-risk youth is entering its second year with a new student advocate.

The Eastern Southland Student Engagement Service, which is based in Gore, is designed to provide early intervention for pupils and families before suspension from school becomes necessary, and to speed up the process of getting pupils back into school if they have been excluded.

Representatives from Eastern Southland schools, Hokonui Rūnanga, REAP and the Community Networking Trust have driven the development of the project, which gained funding from the Trusts Community Foundation on the recommendation of the Mataura Licensing Trust.

The organisation has started the new year with new student advocate Shontelle Dixon at the helm. About 20 pupils are involved in the project at any one time, says Ms Dixon.

Pupils participating this term came from Gore High School, Menzies College, St Peters College and Blue Mountain College, she says.

The first step in achieving success for pupils is to keep them in school. Keeping pupils at school and engaged is important because they need to develop skills to set them up for job options in later life, says Ms Dixon.

“Every Child deserves the right to succeed.” Achieving success is different for each pupil, she says. “They are all individuals at the end of the day.” One of the advantages of the advocacy role is being able to view pupils lives holistically, she says.

An emphasis is put on building relationships and trust with the pupils. There is also a need to identify barriers that prevent pupils from achieving success or attending school regularly, she says. “It could be something as simple as they don’t have a school uniform.” Working with pupils to find the best services is a necessary part of the job, she says. The start of the school year is a time of settling in for pupils. It is important for them to find their way in the school, as just being in school could be a bit chaotic. She spends a day each week at each school, meaning there was regular contact with pupils, Ms Dixon says.

“It’s a regular thing for the kids as well – I’m here for them”. The schools refer pupils to the service. Being able to make a difference in pupils life’s is satisfying, she says.

Programme manager Ivan Hodgetts says the programme is functioning well. He described Ms Dixon’s taking over from Bob Gammelin, who was first in the role, as being quite seamless. Social services, schools and the wider community have been welcoming to Ms Dixon, making the transition easier, he says.

Story written by Margaret Phillips – The Ensign Gore.