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Teachers on familiar grounds

Opaki School teachers Nicki Bramwell-Cooke, left, Tiriana Potangaroa and Lizzy McGovern. PHOTO/ CAL ROBERTS

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Three Opaki School students are still at school – they haven’t been held back – rather, they have returned as teachers.

Tiriana Potangaroa, Lizzy McGovern and Nicki Bramwell-Cooke were all former students of Opaki School.

Ms Potangaroa teaches Years 7 and 8 alongside Belinda Bunny – who taught Ms Potangaroa.

She said she felt welcome when returning to Opaki as a member of staff.

“I think it’s cool – I feel like I’m learning a lot from her.”

Mrs Bramwell-Cooke’s first teaching role was at the old Mikimiki school – another school she had attended growing up. The school’s building had been relocated to Opaki’s premises – which meant she felt at home in familiar surroundings.

“I had such a positive time at Mikimiki, as I had at Opaki.”

She said that same positivity was felt each day she was at school.

Things had changed since the teachers were students – the roll size, buildings, playgrounds – but some things that remained the same.

First was the old oak tree out front of the school – which featured a lot in school pictures.

“I remember having school photos taken under the oak tree,” Mrs Bramwell-Cooke said.

“It’s always been a constant through it all.”

Second was the school’s culture.

The teachers said it was very inclusive.

Ms McGovern said at the core of the school’s culture was a willingness to let kids be kids.

“It’s about kids learning through nature. That’s something I remember and it’s cool to see that’s the same.”

Having attended the school as students gave teachers an edge in teaching.

“We went on the Abel Tasman camp, and kids want to know if it was the same,” Ms Potangaroa said.

“They want to know, ‘Did you do this? Did you do that?’

“And it’s quite good to be able to say, ‘Yes, I did,’ to a lot of it.

She said being able to relate to what the kids were learning and going through formed stronger bonds.

“It lets kids know that they can do it too.”

Ms McGovern said they were brought up in the community and knew how it operated.

“So, it helps create those stronger bonds – we’re from the area, so we understand the area.”

Opaki School principal Dave Finlayson was glad to have the three teachers on board.

“All three have wonderful skills they bring to the school and it’s great seeing them passing them on to the students.

“Between the three of them, they bring youth, community spirit, enthusiasm and a sense of belonging, and ownership to the school which they convey to the pupils as well as being great teachers.”

He believed the trio wanted to pass on the education and experiences they had as children.

“I think they saw how their teachers went beyond the call of duty to bring them those extra experiences and they have that drive to do the same.”


  1. What a good article. It’s so important for teachers to be able to relate to their community. It helps contextualise learning and with relationships with Whanau. What good role models for the kids!

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