New Zealand Rugby is piloting a return to learning program after concussion sessions at some Otago and Hawke's Bay schools to educate students and teachers, as well as develop guidelines.
New Zealand Rugby community general manager Steve Lancaster says, "We’ve realised that there’s nothing that replicates that in the school setting to ensure that school students can return to school".
That’s what Otago Spirit and Dunedin Sharks Wahine forward, Ella Gomez, discovered after she received a serious head knock at 17.
"Our teachers were unfortunately pretty uneducated on it, didn’t really understand how serious it was cause obviously you can’t really see a concussion."
Even her dad, a school sports coordinator, was uninformed.
"I was surprised, I wasn’t actually educated enough. I didn’t actually know what to do straight away so I had to find out," Tony Gomez said.
That’s why NZ Rugby is piloting sessions at some Otago and Hawke's Bay schools to educate students and teachers, as well as develop guidelines for a structured return to learning post-concussion.
Lancaster says he wants the pilot sessions made available in all areas of the workplace, not just in schools.
"We’re not just developing this for rugby, we’re happy to share it across sports and we’re keen to engage with the Ministry of Education, Government and talk about how these guidelines can be put in place nationally."
Other countries such as Canada and the US have legislation in place, but New Zealand does not.
"Getting back to school is this kind of dark hole - there’s a lot of unknowns," NZ Rugby research analyst Danielle Salmon said.
ACC data shows New Zealand teenagers have the highest rates of sports-related concussions out of any age group, and up to 75% struggle returning to school afterwards.
Researchers say returning too early can have massive long-term implications.
"We’re students before we are athletes," Ella said.
"Putting a bit more emphasis into our students and young athletes would be great because we need to protect them if we want to have athletes in the future, so I think it’s a great move."
There’s now a call for those in power to join the conversation to protect the next generation of sporting stars.