The word ‘academy’ has two definitions –
‘a place of study or training in a special field’, and ‘a society or institution of distinguished scholars and artists or scientists that aims to promote and maintain standards in its particular field’.

While school academies in New Zealand span both these definitions, the most applicable definition is perhaps the historical one: ‘a place of study’, from Akada-mos, the teaching school founded by Plato in c. 387 BC.

This might be the sort of information students at Avondale College’s Scholars’ Academy discover. Launched in 2013 for students who have distinguished themselves in one or more subjects, the academy has two main objectives: to extend and enrich members academically, and to foster participation and success in NZQA Scholarship.

“In the academy environment, students are challenged to think divergently, to question preconceptions, to interrogate information critically, and to gather and use knowledge with wisdom – in short, to be a scholar,” the college explains on its website.

Performing arts skills

Avondale College also has a Performing Arts Academy, which offers students in Year 9 and 10 an extended programme of learning in performance skills and techniques in music (jazz and classical), dance and drama.
The academy runs before school five mornings a fortnight and engages students in “challenging but exciting learning experiences that build their performance techniques, confidence, communication and presentation skills”, says communication manager Susan Elijaš.

She says the success of the academy is reflected in the flourishing arts programme at the college, with music, dance and drama students enjoying success at regional and national level. This year a Year 13 student who came through the Drama Academy programme, David Tuitama, performed at London’s Globe Theatre after being selected for the National Youth Shakespeare Company.

Expert sports coaching

Likewise, catering to their most talented junior sportspeople, Avondale College’s Sports Academy provides expert coaching in basketball, netball, rugby, football, hockey and cricket.
“The philosophy of the Sports Academy is to nurture the talent of young students, giving them the opportunity and environment to excel, both on the sports field and in the classroom” – something all schools with academies are quick to emphasise: that the academic side of schooling doesn’t suffer, and is often enhanced through involvement in an academy.

While most academies are focused on high-achieving performers, some are more egalitarian in their approach, offering students of all abilities the opportunity to participate in sport.

The Academy of Sport at Hamilton Boys’ High School has a mandate to cater to both groups. “It’s not just about the elite athletes, not for us,” says Todd Miller, former All Black and head of elite sport at the school. As evidence of this, the school fields 35 football teams and 23 rugby teams. “There’s something for everyone,” says Miller.

Helping to develop talent at the school that will feed into the high-performance teams, the junior elite sport programme provides selected Year 9 and 10 students with instruction in physical training methods, injury prevention and rehabilitation, sports nutrition and sports psychology, as well as providing regular coaching sessions in their chosen sport.

“The positive feedback from parents and students alike suggest that the elite sport programme is providing an opportunity for athletes to reach their full potential,” says Miller.
Likewise, the sports academies at St Peter’s School in Cambridge help students to maximise their potential “through a culture of outstanding work ethic, responsibility and respect,” says Ange Russek, assistant director of sport.

St Peter’s has academies for football, rugby, netball and cricket for Year 9 and 10 students and academies for rowing, cycling, golf and swimming that are open to all ages.
Many St Peter’s students have been national title holders, represented New Zealand in their sport, broken world records and become world champions in their age groups, says Russek.

“Other students have been involved in coaching, umpiring, refereeing and administrative pathways offered through sport at St Peter’s that have created leadership and employment opportunities.”


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