Member memories: rural Manawatū schools

NZEI Te Riu Roa member Kylie Parry, a teacher aide and librarian at St Mary’s School in Carterton, reminisces about her time at Rangiwahia School, a rural school in Manawatū that opened in 1895 and closed for good in 2013. She then chats to the current principal of a rural school up the road from Rangiwahia, Maree Rossiter of Mangaweka School, about what school life is like now.

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I was a pretty odd and very geeky kid. This isn’t going to shock any of you that have met the adult me. What does sometimes surprise people is that I was raised very rural (rural people can be geeks too!). My primary school, Rangiwahia Primary, had three teachers and 55 students ages five to 13.

You might imagine that being a baby geek at a small rural school in the ’80s would be a bit of a nightmare. Instead, it was pretty great.

I think the best thing about rural areas is that they usually look after their own. I might have been non-sporty, obsessed with pockets and the Famous Five – but I was their weird kid. I belonged, even when I didn’t.

My teacher for a few years when I was in the big kids’ class was also the principal and the buyer of library books for the school. Our school library was pretty much just an oversized storage cupboard. I never questioned why there were always new books that seemed tailormade for me. I just accepted that libraries are magic. Years later, my parents mentioned that my teacher had bought a lot of those books especially for me. It was that kind of school.

There wasn’t a lot in the way of groups in our playground. To get enough kids to play a game meant you pretty much had to round up everyone vaguely old enough. So I played bullrush (until it was banned), branding (somehow we thought throwing tennis balls at each other hard enough to leave a mark was an awesome idea) and plenty of “go home, stay home”.

One of the highlights of the school term was Movie Night. We were a long way from the nearest town, so the parents and school came up with a plan to entertain us and raise money for the school. They’d rent a proper, movie-theatre movie – not a video, but the actual giant film reels – and we’d all cram into a classroom at night, pay for our yoghurt container of popcorn and some Raro, and feel like we were having a night out.

Once, they decided to rent Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. They hadn’t realised it’d be so long and we were all getting a bit restless. After we got back from half time, some of us noticed that the scene had changed quite suddenly, but we didn’t question it. Turns out, the parents had decided to just skip a whole film reel to shorten the movie…

I was lucky. Some of primary school was tough, but overall it was positive. The small kindnesses of some of those teachers have stayed with me. I hope that at the school I work in, I’m able to pass a little of that on. It’s the best way I can think of to say thank-you.

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Kylie Parry interviews Maree Rossiter of Mangaweka School, a rural school up the road from Rangiwahia about what school life is like now.

How would you describe your school and its character to someone who has never lived in a rural area?

Mangaweka School is a full primary school nestled in the hills off State Highway 1. Given our locality, we have the best of urban and rural qualities, with our local Rangitikei awa a stone’s throw away. The aspect we are most proud of in our school is our positive and respectful learning environment that supports children’s engagement and learning and our collaborative approach within the school team, parents / whanau, trustees and our community.

Do you have a funny moment relating to school that you can share with us?

At Mangaweka School our tamariki do not wear a uniform and most of the time don’t wear shoes. They climb trees, roll around in leaves in autumn, play in the snow in winter, pick flowers to make daisy chains, pick fruit and tend the school garden during the spring and spend most of their break times in the school pool during the summer months. Our tamariki are inclusive of one another and our senior tamariki always look out for and include our juniors.

Could you briefly describe a normal working day for you?

We celebrate an emergent curriculum where no day is ever the same. Learning experiences are authentic and range from tending the gardens or caring for our grounds, stewing the fruit off our fruit trees, baking and decorating, having an impromptu tea-party to whole school water fights where drenching the adults is normally the ultimate goal. Fun and laughter is the essence of our school and our tamariki see their school as an extension of their home. Between the neighbours’ ducks, goats, chickens and the odd bull coming for visits, our children are afforded a learning environment of days of old where life was less complex and wholesome.

If you could have anything for your school (cost no object) what would it be and why?

I referred the question to our tamariki and here are a few of their thoughts: go-karts and a go-kart track; a trampoline the size of Mars; a BMX and skateboard track; more trees; a climbing wall; a movie theatre for Monday movies; a room full of Lego; swings; a flying fox; a merry-go-round with a rollercoaster; and the most occurring response was a school pet – a rabbit, a chicken, a horse and 2 cats.

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