John Sione Tupou Fonua, a Parramatta Eels Jersey Flegg Cup playmaker, is nominated for trainee of the year at the 2018 NSW and ACT Group Training Awards.
Fonua is a completing a certificate IV in education support, in a teacher's aide role, at Hoxton Park Public School.
Jenny Rosman, operations manager from the Australia Training Company (ATC), raised the idea of nominating Fonua and received support from the school principal Kylie Donovan, citing many qualities he's displayed with year five and six students to earn the recognition.
"He takes them on like they're his younger brothers and sisters," Rosman said.
"He gives them the strategies to handle themselves better outside of school on their own.
"Reliability, punctuality, attention to detail... he has all of that in spades.
"He's shown a lot of leadership. He's quite an impressive young man."
Fonua started there in early 2017 when she paired the school with the trainee.
"Dean Feeney (Parramatta Eels Jersey Flegg Cup coach) brought him to me as a possible candidate as part of my football traineeship program, and for my education support traineeship program we run in partnership with the ATC, the Parramatta Eels, and a number of schools around the Sydney metropolitan area."
Donovan thinks Fonua being with the Eels helps him develop some of the same skills he uses at school.
"His experiences with the Eels have taught him about such essential life skills as teamwork and fair play, which Johnny has then been able to transfer and teach in the classroom and during recess and lunch times with his students," Donovan said.
She earmarks Fonua with kids finding school challenging.
"The children Johnny has worked with, originally they weren't coming to school or their attendance was sporadic," Rosman said.
"He's managed to get them over the last couple of years back to school on a regular basis.
"(With) some of them he's gone over and above in terms of dealing with behavioural issues.
It's his ability to respond to situations, such as the behaviour of students, that has Donovan impressed.
"John is intuitive in his actions to protect other students and teachers," Donovan said.
"He has carried injured students to the sick bay, talked down students where their behaviour has escalated to become violent; all the while remaining amazingly calm.
"John is a credit to his family and a great representative for his club."
While Fonua is gaining professional experience by helping the kids develop, his people skills are improving.
"(When I first met Johnny in early 2017) He was 17 years old. Extremely polite, very shy and answered questions with one word answers.
"I saw him last week and he's still very polite, articulate, able to talk in detail about what he does and about how happy he is with the opportunity.
"The biggest thing is ... he's been able to engage (with people) a lot better than he was 18 months ago."
Donovan added: "An improvement in John's confidence is evident by the way he now interacts with my staff.
"John feels comfortable enough to chat to teachers and office staff, who have all developed a great rapport with him."
The winner is announced at the awards night on Friday 12th October, held at Dockside Darling Harbour.
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