Tessa Gregory had had enough of high school by Year 13. "I was fed up with it – I didn't enjoy anything and I turned into the girl who never went to school. So I was given the ultimatum: go to class or leave. I chose to leave."
With credits from secondary school, Tessa started the Certificate in Māori Studies at Te Puna Wanaka at CPIT (now Ara Institute of Canterbury). Suddenly - because she finally had the chance to learn about her language and culture - she was motivated to study. "I got here and it was everything I wanted it to be. It made me want to study. I was so happy."
After completing her certificate Tessa started Te Hāpara, the first year of the degree programme, but difficult personal circumstances derailed her good intentions and she left Te Puna Wanaka to work full time in administration.
A year later Tessa was ready for a new direction. Just in time, the Centre for Māori and Pasifika Achievement at CPIT got in touch about a new trades programme just for Māori.
He Toki ki te Rika is a collaboration between Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, CPIT and Hawkins Construction. Along with trades training, students explore cultural elements such as history and performing arts. They're also given comprehensive support - even after they've graduated and found employment - to keep learning and working towards becoming a manager or business owner.
Learning a trade appealed to Tessa, who chose to study painting and decorating. "I was nervous because I hadn't seen many women around in the trade industry but I was excited. I like being different and doing something different."
Now employed by Frame Contracting, Tessa says enrolling in He Toki was one of the best decisions she has ever made and she now has her sights set on travelling the world with her trade."I think everyone got something out of that course. I'm really thankful to He Toki. It was one of the best decisions. If it wasn't for He Toki I don't know what I would be doing now."