When Stu Thompson took a group of boys from Welcome Bay Primary School on a trip to Papamoa Beach in 2010, he was shocked to realise many had never been before – despite it only being 9km away from where they lived.
“I’ve also taken boys bike riding who have never ridden a bike before. There’s a lot of poverty out there and you don’t realise how much people are struggling until you meet them.”
Stu is the man behind ICONZ – a nationwide programme which has grown out of the New Zealand Boys Brigade organisation. Faced with a declining membership, Boys Brigade hired Stu in 2003 to develop a modern programme that would appeal to boys aged 5-18 years.
Boys Brigade National Director Michael Good says the aim was to provide good mentors and role models for young boys – many of whom don’t have a father figure in their lives – and teach them valuable life skills at the same time.
ICONZ is split into four different levels – Anchor (for 5-7 year-olds); Adventure (8-10 year-olds); Xtreme (11-13 year-olds) and Delta (14-18 year-olds). “We’re now running in 65 different locations across the country and cater for approximately 1600 boys,” Michael says proudly. “It’s been a great success.”
In addition to the community-based programmes, which all boys are welcome to sign up for, Stu also developed ICONZ Edge which has run at Welcome Bay Primary School and two or three other schools around New Zealand since 2010.
“I was approached by a teacher at Welcome Bay School who was looking for something to help a group of boys who had learning difficulties. At the same time a Boys Brigade leader in Palmerston North asked why we couldn’t run ICONZ in schools. I wondered why we hadn’t thought of that before. As soon as it was up and running I knew we were onto something and it was going to be a winner.”
Stu and a fellow ICONZ Edge leader now work with a small group of Welcome Bay students every week for 12 months. “They’re hand-picked by the school. Some are boys who are on the edge and are in trouble; others have never hammered in a nail or been to the beach before.”
For two hours each week they experience fun activities like learning to fillet a fish, cook sausages on a BBQ, building small boats or making table lamps out of driftwood. Fifteen minutes of every session is also devoted to “Edge skills” like bullying, self-management and resilience, conflict resolution, team building and how to relate to others.
“Schools are grappling with a lot of social issues which is distracting teachers from their core jobs. ICONZ Edge is stepping into the gap and teaching kids important life lessons – all of which are linked back to the core competencies in the National Curriculum,” Stu says.
Each weekly lesson touches on five different aspects of learning – spiritual, physical, adventure, community service and interesting activities. “We play games – usually competitive ones because boys like competition. We have our skills session while the boys are eating lunch and then we get into an activity of some sort.”
Stu is now on a mission to expand ICONZ Edge to other Bay Schools. He is currently raising $34,000 to fund a new enclosed ‘workshop’ trailer which will act as a mobile classroom for students.
“We can tow it from school to school and it will help us overcome wet weather or any issues around lack of classroom space. It will be 5.5m long and about 2.4m wide – about the size of a shipping container.”
BayTrust has granted $15,000 towards the project which Stu is most grateful for.
“We were blown away. We’re so delighted to have BayTrust’s support and can’t wait to get our new ‘workshop’ on the road. It’s just outstanding.”
Stu says he is humbled to witness the difference ICONZ Edge is making in student’s lives. “I remember one boy who asked if he could make an extra Anzac biscuit to give to his older brother. I nearly cried. It was a precious moment. It’s also been great to see the kids learn to work together too. One day I hope we can offer this programme to lots of boys in many different schools across the Bay.”