Eparaima Paratene (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Whatua) is a New Zealand Army veteran who spends his days running boot-camp style training sessions for year 12 and 13 students at Papakura High School. He aims to get them employment-ready, or straight into the forces after their final school year.
“Our programme is designed as a gateway for students either to go from school straight into employment or into the Army, Navy, or the Air force,” Paratene says.
The 28-year-old veteran says 80% of the students at Papakura High School are Māori and come from what he calls "less than ideal" upbringings, which is why the Service Academy programme is designed to help the students make the transition to employment or the forces as soon as they finish at school.
“The breakdown is home life and when they leave school.
"That’s the reason they’re not turning up to school; they can’t get to school or just don’t have parents or they’re couch surfing," he says.
Having spent nine years in the NZ Army, deployed in Iraq for some of that time, Paratene says the army taught him core values such as discipline and perseverance that he strives to implement in his lessons with his students.
“I learned those values in the army and also growing up on the marae. I was fortunate enough to have good parents, and a lot of family around me to teach me those important life lessons.”
“If they don’t have everything sorted at home, they’re just not gonna learn at school.”
Paratene's students will celebrate a year's worth of hard work next month as they graduate from this programme.