A few weeks ago I went along to support the CACTUS programme.
It was graduation for the 25 Western Heights High School students who took part in this unique exercise-based initiative. The students endured eight hours of grueling physical activity before they officially graduated and I was blown away that they were able to achieve this.
One Friday early in March, I was invited to take part in one of the trainings and talk to the students. While I may not have lived up to their fitness standards - they ran up to the top of Mt Ngongotaha and back in under and hour - it was fantastic to see local youth so engaged. It was heartening to see what these students had achieved. Equally impressive was the way parents, friends and the communities got behind them to support them.
CACTUS is designed to extend a young person’s mind and physical capability, with a focus on teamwork, goal setting, leadership and discipline. It involves an eight week intensive physical training programme and includes three one hour training sessions per week, of progressively harder physical activities. Students get to the school around 5.30pm and each manage to undertake the day’s physical activities. The students are also mentored by local police and hear from regular guest speakers.
Led by members of the Rotorua Police, the programme has been developed in conjunction with Western Heights High School and the Western Heights Community Association. It is a fantastic initiative and one which I believe is positively affecting Western Heights and the wider Rotorua community. This is proven in the results of the students who have taken part so far and the messages they are sending their fellow students.
The officer in charge, Rotorua sergeant Steve Sutton, says he witnesses significant changes in those who take part first hand. Students who take part in the course improve not only their physical fitness but their attitude, behaviour and mental strength. In fact, while CACTUS only kicked off in Rotorua last year, it has been so successful there are now several hundred students wanting to take part.
These sorts of initiatives remind me that we must put the effort in to engage our young people because when we do, they respond. It also brings the message that regular physical activity, positive engagement with other students and influence from positive role models play an important role in the lives of young people.
The next programme is set to kick off at Reporoa College at the end of the month. I will certainly be keeping an eye on this programme and the progress it and its participants make. I support any programme which aims to improve the lives of our local youth and it would be fantastic to see CACTUS grow in Rotorua.
I must also acknowledge this programme would not be possible without the support of parents, the local community and the Rotorua Police. Congratulations to the 25 students from Western Heights High School who graduated. You can be proud of yourselves and I wish you all the best.