Maori youngsters inspired by 28 Maori Battalion

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(by Mike Barrington)

EXCELLING: Leadership Academy of A Company cadets excelling in sports and leadership are Shane Witehira (left), Mana Ashby and Harley Iraia.EXCELLING: Leadership Academy of A Company cadets excelling in sports and leadership are Shane Witehira (left), Mana Ashby and Harley Iraia.

The 28 Maori Battalion forged an outstanding reputation on the battlefields of Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy during World War II.

Boys now learning from the soldiers’ example are excelling as leaders and sports stars at Whangarei schools.

Three boys among the 25 in the city’s Leadership Academy of A Company have top prefect roles. Cameron Muriwai, 17, is head boy at Tikipunga High School, Mana Ashby, 16, is head boy at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Rawhitiroa at Tikipunga and Harley Iraia, 17, is deputy head boy at Whangarei Boys’ High School.

Mana is also captain of the under-17 Northland Swords league team and Harley has won selection for the Auckland Blues development squad.

Another emerging star is Shane Witehira, 15, named top player in the North Island and National Secondary Schools volleyball tournament at Tauranga where Tikipunga High – with Shane and two other Leadership Academy players in the squad – won the event by beating teams from schools with far bigger rolls.

The academy, which has ASB Community Trust funding of $1million in three years, is an offshoot of the He Puna Marama Trust, which CEO Raewyn Tipene and two other working mothers set up in 1997 to advance whanau through education.

With its name a tribute to the Ngapuhi men in the Maori Battalion’s A Company, the academy had its first intake of 15 cadets last year, increasing to 25 this year. They spend weekends at home, but during the week stay at the Parua Bay Christian Camp where there lives are run along military lines with programmes emphasising discipline, education and Maori culture.

Cadets rise at 6am for exercise before breakfast, attend school in Whangarei, and afterward have sport, music, te reo and other lessons before dinner, followed by homework and lights out at 10pm.

Education director Ken Kawiti said the boys responded well to the structure, discipline and work ethic at the academy. Progress increased their confidence and eagerness to learn.

Ministry of Education tests measuring students’ progress nationally showed some cadets stretched academically when they started at the academy could now match it with the best in the country.

Mana Ashby and Cameron Muriwai both said they enjoyed studying at the academy. Mana said homework every night had improved his classroom ability and he liked the way cadets were always “doing stuff” after school and not “just logging on to TV.”

Shane Witehira has a couple of years to go at the academy, but Mana and Cameron will leave after they complete Year 13 studies next year.

Mana had thought about moving on to training in sport and recreation, but wasn’t sure about his future career.

Cameron said he could go into the Navy for a few years and he was also interested in teaching.

Raewyn Tipene said the the academy roll would expand to about 35 boys next year. 

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