Tongariro School dux for 2012 Raven Nere Taewa-Young is no stranger to hard work.
But at last year's school prizegiving when Raven set her sights on attaining the top academic prize in 2012, she had no idea how ``full on'' her final year at school was going to be.
The 17-year-old who comes from a Turangi family of eight children, beat off maths and science scholars to take the title of school dux after excelling in her chosen subjects of English, scholarship Te Reo Maori, physical education, Maori Performing Arts and drama.
As well as completing her classroom studies and working weekend shifts at Burger King, the teenager has been tuakana (leader) of the school's 25 strong Maori Performing Arts Group for the last two years. She was in the school performing group that won regional honours at the ASB 2012 Stage Challenge in Rotorua earlier this year for their eight minute dance item Maori Battalion. The school was one of the smallest to make it through to the regionals. In between school, kapa haka and work commitments Raven co-directed and took an acting role in the school production Alice in Wonderland. She also played netball for local team Tongariro Sports.
Her efforts in the field of performing arts saw her take a host of prizes at the end of year prizegiving. They included the Sir Howard Morrison award for best female, performing arts; best female performer for kapa haka and major contributor for stage/performance/dance along with the coveted dux title.
She says at times during the school year when she was ready to give up, her teacher and mentor Grace Marsh _ head of department for Te Reo Maori and Maori Performing Arts - was always on hand with plenty of encouragement.
``She always tells us not to expect anything less than what you deserve.
``The times when I just wanted to stop, I would talk to Grace and she would make me realise and help make things clear - along with a few growlings!''
Three former dux at the school have been members of the Maori Performing Arts group and Raven says it is great to join their ranks and help change the perception that performing arts is just about standing up and performing.
Her teacher agrees.
``There's a lot of bookwork and a lot of writing and the expectation is that it is all in te reo Maori.''
Grace says Raven has been outstanding academically and a great role model for younger students.
``We have had our head butts but she always comes through,'' she says.
There is little time for Raven to bask in her achievements. She is already working toward her next goal of saving up enough money - around $30,000 - in the next 12 months to attend drama school in Wellington in 2014 and move into an acting career.
The teenager is working through the holidays and is planning to head to Western Australia at the start of next year, where her family has relatives, to get a good paying job in the mines.
She's says kapa haka will always be an integral part of her life - ``it's who I am and what moves me'' - and joining up with a kapa haka group will be top of the priority list once she arrives in Australia.