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Small school, big family

A dwindling school roll is a problem many small rural schools are facing around New Zealand. But Mauriceville School is bucking that trend, having doubled its roll over the past year, writes Emily Norman.

 

Masterton mother Santana Lintern fondly recalls the day her oldest son, 11, first read aloud.

For years, he had struggled to learn at “town schools”, battling with learning disorders and ADHD.

But two years ago, he moved to Mauriceville School where he finally learned to read, thanks to the small class sizes and the impressive student teacher ratio — about one teacher to every 10 students.

The small country school, 15 minutes from Masterton, is bucking the national trend of imminent closure, with its roll jumping from 11 pupils last year to 22.

And its principal Rebecca Stevens says it is because of the passion of those involved in the community that the rural school is still running.

“We’re not shutting any time soon,” she said.

In fact, the school is holding its first open day this Saturday.

“School closures are not a numbers thing…The Ministry doesn’t close schools based on the roll.”

“The schools that are shutting… it’s been because the community has chosen to shut it.”

Ms Stevens said Mauriceville School had got to the point where it was losing appeal and prospective pupils because it was a smaller school, “so we thought, we’ve got to do something to make it sustainable”.

The school took it upon itself to offer school bus rides to pupils in Masterton, “afterall, we’ve only got so many kids in Mauriceville itself”.

Now about half of Mauriceville School’s pupils are based in Masterton, including Miss Lintern’s son.

“We’ve got children who have disabilities like ADHD, autism, and things like that,” Ms Stevens said.

“Everyone’s different.

“That’s why our values are trust, respect, uniqueness, and excelling.

“Our unofficial motto is small school, big family.”

Ms Stevens said being the principal of a good school involved teaching not just the pupils, but educating their parents as well.

“We’re supporting a couple of whanau members at the moment to do a teacher aide course… and we’re looking at doing literacy and budgeting next year in conjunction with Literacy Wairarapa and Supergrans.

“If you want to make things better for kids, you’ve got to make it better for parents as well, and empower them to be the best parents they can be and to meet their potential as well.”

Mauriceville’s 22 pupils range from 5-year-olds to 13-year-olds; Year 1 to Year 8.

“We did look at the modern learning environment thing and just because of the needs of our children, we decided that wasn’t going to meet their learning needs, so we’ve got two classes based around ability and relationships,” Ms Stevens said.

Her advice to other small rural schools in Wairarapa, like Tuturumuri School which was recently confirmed to have no students on its roll, is to “push your uniqueness and make sure people know you are still out there”.

“For a long time, people thought we had closed down,” she said.

“Just because we’re small doesn’t mean we’re not viable.”

She said the school was set to hold its first ever open day this Saturday between 10am and 2pm.

“We have an open-door policy where people can just come and check us out anytime, but we thought having a dedicated day would encourage more people to come along.”

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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