For most Kiwi high school students, logging onto the NZQA website early on Thursday morning last week brought anxiety, tinged with equal parts dread and nervous expectation, as the results of their year-long NCEA studies revealed themselves at last.
But for year 13 student Joshua Morris, it was also a hugely cathartic moment.
He’d passed. NCEA level 1, and NCEA level 2. “It kind of just struck me,” the Cambridge High School student says. “I was really stoked.”
It was cathartic because, five years earlier, Josh left school.
Starting high school for the first time in 2016, Josh “went through a pretty rough stage,” he says. He started to face bullying. Anxiety developed as a result, and at the end of term 2 that year, he moved into correspondence learning from home.
The next two years allowed him to rack up a few NCEA credits through a program called Te Kura, though in 2019, he moved to a homeschooling model. With that, Josh says: “I lost my credits, I couldn’t gain any credits from home schooling. I was basically just learning; I wasn’t achieving any standards.”
The anxiety persisted. “If you asked me at the start of 2019 about school, I would’ve said: I hate it, I’m never going back, never going back to school,” he says.
But at the end of 2019, he got, as Josh describes it, “a feeling.” Technically he would be at “year 13” in 2020, and he would have to make a call on whether he would go to work or come back to school. “I just had this weird feeling inside of me that was just: I want to give school another crack,” he says.
And so, he did.
Re-joining Cambridge High School at the start of 2020, he “had to really restart.” It was still a struggle on the academic side of things; Josh has dyslexia, and English and Sports Science weren’t the easiest subjects.
But all in all, he’s “loved every moment of it,” Josh says with a laugh.
Josh was enrolled in English, P.E, Health, Sports Science and Consumer Citizenship, all at level 2, with credits counting down, allowing him to achieve level 1. That left him with two external exams, and lots of “internals” — assignments worth credits marked by teachers at school. And Josh passed the majority of them, raking up enough credits to leave him looking at both NCEA certificates on Thursday morning.
A classroom with a teacher was a huge improvement on a room without one, Josh says.
During correspondence learning, a teacher would check in on him twice a week. “So, having a teacher everyday, sitting down with me if I needed help, telling me what to do — it was just mind blowing … It created a space for me to learn and grow and develop way more freely. It was really good in that sense,” he says.
But when lockdown struck, Josh was back in familiar territory. “Covid happened and I was like: oh, this is just like correspondence again.”
“I suck at sleeping in,” Josh laughs. “So I had a daily schedule; wake up at 7 every morning, go for a run, and zone in on my homework from about 8 until 2.” By that time, it was back to fitness: “one day I actually cycled to Te Awamutu and back!”
What with lockdown and the process of getting back into the rhythms of school, Josh was getting quite a few “re-subs” — re-submissions of internals. “In that case it was always about getting back on my feet and just doing it again to the best of my abilities. On the academic side, yeah — I did struggle a lot,” he says. “But I managed to get back and, in the end, pass.”
This year, Josh has his sights primed squarely on level 3, and another fun year back at school. His philosophy for it all?
“You just got to find your feet again and go for gold.”