Ah, school days. I remember them with great fondness.
Oddly enough, both my primary and intermediate schools have closed, or more accurately, morphed into something else. I’d like to think that it wasn’t anything to do with me.
Riselaw Road School in Dunedin was built as a response to the post-war baby boom and opened at the beginning of 1953. I started in March.
I recall on my very first day, having walked there with my older sister, that my teacher did a handkerchief check. I didn’t have one!
“Oh,” said Miss McQuarrie. “You’re just new.” I don’t know what the response might have been had I been there for more than one day.
I remember nothing else about the first year, apart from having some sort of test and ‘skipping’ Primer 3. I’m not sure that anyone actually went into Primer 3.
Primer 4 was suddenly a lot more formal, but I liked that. Miss Collins had us do lots of writing and comprehension activities, which suited me. (Later on Mr Pine came to teach at the school and successfully courted Miss Collins. There are tales of him leaping into her room and jumping out the window, which must have been quite exciting for the kids!)
I recall Standard 1 as a large class squashed into a very small room and that in Standard 2 Mr McMath got me to do the spelling tests, so I copied him, walking round the room and looking at people’s books as I called out the words.
Standard 3, not such good memories, but Standard 4 with Mr Kelman was good.
He seemed to be a wise and fair man. I recall studying the St Lawrence Seaway and realising that unless someone explained the ‘how’, I was never going to know what time those two trains passed each other!
I also remember writing poetry and a teacher from another room coming in and questioning me, insisting that I had copied them. I have always been able to do rhyming couplets, for goodness sake, just not trains crossing.
Other things I remember about Riselaw Road… I am not really strong in Nature Study and Science, but I do remember studying Water Boatmen. I can see them now, back stroking across our jam jars. We had scooped them out of the lobster pond down the hill behind the school. I remember the boys in Standard 4 making crystal sets, and I so wanted to make one. We made cooking aprons instead, and little caps with our names stitched on them. I have no regrets about learning how to sew, but still wish I had made a crystal set.
I should also stand up for the education of the day. Yes, it was more formal and ‘seated’, but we still did group work, and it never struck me as boring. I still know my tables with instant recall. I loved doing the plays from the School Journals, and seem to recall writing a play which some of us performed in the new school hall, the fundraising for which, dominated our family’s life for a few years. I was troubled by corporal punishment, even then, and can remember a teacher strapping a boy in rage. I sometimes reflect on that and wish I had stepped in. The boy came from the local Boys’ Home, and probably had personal issues that should have been dealt with at school. John A, I hope you had a good life.
And so off I went in Form 1, 1959, to Macandrew Intermediate. It felt so grown up.
I was placed in Room 9, the only composite class in the school. It was an experiment, with creaming off the top students to extend us. Miss Foster, my Form 1 teacher was a bit of a tyrant, but I think she was fair. I place a ridiculous amount of importance on having neat handwriting, and I certainly got that from Miss Foster. I also got a love of poetry from her too. Tennyson and the Lake Poets – our education was terribly Eurocentric, let’s be honest!
We worked feverishly hard, but also got privileges, like going into town unsupervised and studying topics at the library. Inquiry Learning at its finest!
In Form 2 we had George Williamson, a really lovely man. Once again, firm but fair, as they say.
We went on camp to Inch Valley that year. We had to write a book about it, and I wished I had kept mine. (My brother did keep his book, a couple of years later – a novel. It was a murder mystery, made a little bit tricky to solve by only introducing the murderer in the final chapter.) We had clubs, and my friend Ruth and I did Scottish Country Dancing in the hallway with Mrs Jack.
We didn’t learn nearly enough about New Zealand, and we were still very attached to Britain. I wonder why we didn’t focus on our history. Did our teachers even know about Parihaka, for example?
One of the joys of being at Macandrew was the variety of things on offer. Miss Sharpe, the Art Teacher, and her billowing gown, sweeping down the corridor, and her fondness for what I know now to be impressionism. Sewing – I made myself a dress. The school dance, which was actually an evening of folk dancing, but it was still great! Cooking with Mrs Ramsey. You would be surprised how many of her tips I passed on when I spent the last four years of my teaching career being the Food Tech/Cooking teacher! I hope Mrs Ramsey would have been proud.
The Principal was Mr Notman, and he was tall, male and slightly aloof, from memory, which was probably in the job description back then.
We had segregated playgrounds, boys and girls, and never attempted to sneak in where we couldn’t go! We weren’t especially troubled by it at the time, but it certainly seems odd on reflection.
I could write at greater length about Macandrew. I really enjoyed it there. I am still friendly with a number of my classmates, and a few years ago we had a class reunion. The affection we felt for each other was palpable and extraordinary.
In the 21st century Riselaw Primary and Macandrew Intermediate fell victim to falling rolls. Both schools closed and now most children from those catchments attend Bathgate Park School which opened in 2011, merging Macandrew and Forbury Schools. Bathgate Park is a full primary school and Katrina Robertson is principal; the first female to hold that position in either school’s history.
“It’s a very different place from the schools Alison attended,” says Robertson. “The way teachers and students relate is much less structured and formal than in the past. Our teachers are often addressed by their Christian names. I’m known to everyone as Katrina and many staff are addressed as whaea or matua. There’s respect, but it is much more relaxed. At the same time, we foster tuakana-teina relationships between students; with the older or more experienced children supporting those with less knowledge.”
The relationships are also impacted by the school’s emphasis on student voice.
“We are always asking for student feedback and opinions and this has a huge influence on the direction of learning in the classroom, as well as on what happens in the wider school.”
“In the classroom the teacher is a less of a dominant presence than in the past. They’re facilitators; not the source of all knowledge. They guide students in how to access information and learning is quite collaborative and inquiry based.”
At any time within a classroom, students can be engaged in studying the same thing, but using different focus questions and involved in a range of activities. The boundaries between traditional curriculum areas are often blurred.
The curriculum at Bathgate Park is quite New Zealand focused.
“We try to connect students to their Turangawaewae, so they develop a strong sense of belonging to place and people,” says Robertson. “There’s almost always a Maori perspective in any area of study.”
All students at Bathgate Park have access to all areas of the curriculum. Everyone has opportunities to engage in cooking, sewing and hard materials. At the same time students are able to wear non-gender specific uniform options.
“There has been a real drive to unpack and remove gender stereotypes,” says Robertson. “I wouldn’t say that they are completely gone, but the traditional, gendered school no longer exists, for teaching staff and students.