At a time when the media all too often focuses on young people who are in trouble or who are troubled, it can be easy develop a skewed perspective of our young people in general. It is easy to forget that the vast majority of our young people are hard-working and dedicated.
This week, for example, I was invited to present first prize at the Wellington Stage Challenge. I was amazed at the professional performances of the thousands of 11-18 year-olds which can only result from large degrees of talent, commitment and hard work combined.
In our schools there are many gifted and talented children who have needs as real as those others who have fallen through the cracks. Next week will see the start of an initiative to remind us - June 15-22 is Gifted Awareness week, an initiative established by the Gifted Education Centre designed to raise awareness of the centre and of the needs of gifted students throughout the country.
The Gifted Education Centre was established in 1995 and originally named the George Parkyn Centre, in recognition of educational researcher Professor George Parkyn. One of New Zealand's most distinguished scholars in this field, Professor Parkyn was involved with UNESCO in Paris, as well as with universities in the UK and US.
Here in New Zealand he was Director of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, he produced the research that led to our current university assessment system and was the founding patron of the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children until his death in 1993.
The centre was renamed the Gifted Education Centre in 2007 and last year organised the first ever Gifted Awareness Week with events - including 'Scrabbleathon', public meetings, sculptor visits, workshops and open days - held throughout the country.
Although we parents all consider our children to be talented one of the biggest obstacles that a gifted child faces is simply being recognised as such. This is partly due to the stereotypical image of a gifted child being one that is far in advance of their years and, for example, having the ability to undertake university level studies while still attending school.
Many parents worry that their gifted child can become isolated from others, while other gifted children are over-looked at school because they may have learning problems - such as dyslexia - or problems with co-ordination.
These children often become confused, lonely and frustrated. They can become bored at school and feel they don't belong - which can lead to low self-esteem or behavioural problems and under-achievement. Some are teased and bullied at school and others will purposely under-achieve to fit in with their peers.
Gifted children often feel isolated or strange because they don't fit in. Frequently they haven't met other gifted children and are reassured when they do find others with similar life and learning experiences. Because they can find it difficult to connect with their peers, they can miss out on the socialising experiences that other children have.
One of my delegated roles as Associate Minister of Education is responsibility for Gifted and Talented students.
I firmly believe we must celebrate success in whatever form it may take. As a country it is vital that we recognise achievement and provide positive encouragement to our gifted and talented children and young people - whether that be in academic, artistic, or sporting fields.
It is, therefore, encouraging to see the work of the many organisations that focus on gifted children and the schools that provide programmes for these students. Gifted Awareness Week and one-day schools are just two initiatives that encourage young people to develop their special talents and enable them to grow and gain confidence - not just in that particular area, but in other learning areas.
A rising tide really does raise all ships, and the downstream effects of developing and strengthening gifts and talents is beneficial to the educational outcomes of all students.
For the first time national and regional gifted educational organisations have joined forces to highlight the needs of gifted students in New Zealand. During Gifted Awareness week those interested can increase their understanding by participating in a gifted focused activity organised by one of the following organisations.
Ideas have been supplied by the Gifted Education Centre; giftEDnz, the Professional Association for Gifted Education; the Gifted Kids Programme; the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children; REACH education; the Christchurch Association for Gifted Education; the Otago Association for Gifted and Talented; the Canterbury Association for Gifted Children and Youth; North Canterbury Support for Gifted and Talented Children; and the Waikato Association for Gifted Children. Links to these activities and ideas can be found on www.giftednz.org.nz and www.giftedchildren.org.nz.
Lest We Forget - First US Troops Land In Auckland (June 12 1942)
As part of the support for the Allies' counter-offensive against Japan, around 100,000 US servicemen were stationed in New Zealand between 1942 and 1944.
With anywhere from 15,000-45,000 US troops mainly around Auckland and Wellington at any one time, the situation was dubbed the 'American invasion' - especially given that many US Navy and merchant marine personnel spent time here along with the US soldiers and marines.
This resulted in a considerable culture shock for both visitors and host. Many US soldiers had recently experienced warfare on a Pacific island and were now, according to their army-issued pocket guide, 'deep in the heart of the South Seas'.
Meanwhile, American success with Kiwi women created resentment among many New Zealand men, including large numbers of those serving overseas - leading to common use of the British description for US troops: "over-paid, over-sexed and over here."
The end of the American invasion was a gradual process beginning in the final months of 1943. Some New Zealanders were relieved to see them go, while for others it was an occasion of sadness - and, later grief at the news of Americans killed in battle. For both visitors and hosts the brief encounter left powerful memories, some of which live on today.