I grew up in the country, attending two small rural schools (with two classes) until going to a big city high school with 1200+ students. I've spent most of my teaching career in small rural schools with 2-5 classrooms and most of the time it has been wonderful. So I wanted to celebrate in this post what I love about rural education.
Most schools have them now, but the difference between a town school and a country school is how they come about. Most town schools are big enough to have a grounds keeper/caretaker, who often take an active role in the gardens and help construct and maintain them. At the school in these photos below, apart from the lawnmower contractor, there is no grounds keeper. All work on the gardens is down by parent volunteers and working bees.
At some point, prior to my arrival at the school, gardens had been put in. In my second year there, a parent and I decided to work together with my class to make the gardens even more special. The children did quite a bit of the construction themselves, but when it came to getting those blue barrels to stay put, we got a local farmer with building experience and his son to come in and help problem solve that one.
Agricultural Day, also known as Ag Day, Calf Club and Pet Day, is a highlight of the school year for me. I had eight years of taking a calf to Calf Club as a child, and along with the fond memories of a warm, snuggly calf and lots of ribbons, I also remember my mum nagging me to go out and feed her and brush her.
On the day there are kids proudly showing of their calves, lambs and goats. You can tell the kids with the great love for their animals as they take them for walks around the grounds or hang out with them where they are tied up, ensuring they eat and drink. There is also the raffles, the cake stalls, the sausage sizzle, the over consumption of fizzy drink, the excitement of seeing ribbons handed out and the odd run away pet.
I like to know that the children in my class know their animals well and how to look after them, so I always give out this homework project leading up to the day. Here are two of the projects that stood out to me one year.
When I was a child we also had Flower Show day with Calf Club. So the day before the Calf Club we would bring bucket loads of flower arranging bits and pieced to school and try to enter everything possible. The next day, after tying up our calves, we would rush into the classroom to check out if we had won any prizes.
Flower Shows are slowly becoming a thing of the past, but a few years ago I was at a school who did one, and thankfully not the day before Calf Club.
Some of the categories include:
- unusual container
- egg cup posie
- sand saucer
- miniature garden
- flower in a jar
- fruit and vegetable creature
Some schools also include sections for baking of specific items.
A Day at the Snow:
At some schools it is becoming an annual fixture to have a day at the snow. It gives some children the opportunity to see snow for the first time. For other children it gives them the chance to try out skiing or snowboarding, and those who have been before to extend and build on what they know.
Three years ago the school I was at planned a whole school excursion for the day to Whakapapa on Mt Ruapehu. A fair chunk of the school went. I will tell you straight up that I do not ski or snowboard, and given I have the dodgiest ankle and knew due to netball injuries I did not get treated for properly when I was very young and bullet proof, I did not even attempt skiing. However, some of the mums and kids and I had fun riding the chairlift, making snowmen and snow angels, and sampling all the cafes. And as you can see, I did occasionally take a photo.
Shows that come to school:
We get some hard case shows. This one was Rosie the Cow from Dairy NZ I think. Half of our students at this school came from dairy farms, the other half from sheep and beef farms and contractors. At rural schools the visiting performers are really important because for some schools it is quite a trek to get into a theatre performance.
Guy Fawkes Day:
When I was a kid the communities of the schools I went to had a family Guy Fawkes evening. It had a bonfire and families could bring a guy to put on it. The dads would set off the fireworks. And back in my day, we had Tom Thumbs and Double Happies, and if we were lucky the paddock had been freshly eaten out by cows who had left a lot of fresh cow dung on the ground which was ripe for exploding with a Double Happy and some poor unsuspecting parent with their back to the dung which showered them.
Alas, we no longer have Tom Thumbs or Double Happies, but there is the odd community that still carries on the tradition of the family Guy Fawkes evening.
In the spirit of that, the community I was in a few years ago inspired us to have a Guy Making Day. We set the kids up in teams and parents came to help and there was an awful lot of problem solving that took place. We had two judges (a husband of a teacher and an ex-pupil who loves coming back to help out) and a really fun day.
By the way, not all the guys were burned - some of the kids couldn't bear to see their creations go up in smoke that weekend.
Kids for Kids Choir:
When I was a kid, there were music festivals held in two of the two towns closest to our school at the intermediates. All the schools in the district practised and practised and then gave two or three performances as one large choir.
Scoot ahead to my grown up years, and this did not happen anymore.
But then World Vision and Suzanne Prentice came up with Kids for Kids Choir. The resources are sent out to the school, the teachers school the kids up on the songs, and then we perform with many other schools for a night after a practise held during the day. I've had this experience with three different schools now and it always is spectacular.
And the thing about doing this in a small rural school is that even the five year olds are involved (and they look so cute trying to stay awake on stage)!
Celebrating the Chiefs:
The great thing about being in a small rural school is the flexibility you have. So when the Chiefs got into the final of the Super 15 the other year, we thought we should show them that we supported them. So we spent a morning making posters and face painting each other and wearing our Chiefs colours. It was fun.
We also sent letters to the Chiefs the following year to continue to show that we supported them.
Now I may have history of being a little obsessed with rugby, because one year the whole school went to the Waikato Rugby NPC Open Day to compete in the Mooloo Song competition (which we won and some of the team and One News visited our school as a result) and another time 80% of our school went to Waikato Stadium to watch the All Black Captain's Run (we got autographs and photos)! It's all about creating memories and pride in supporting your team.
Logging Truck Safety:
Being a kid in a rural locality has its dangers. Farms are hazardous places and so are the roads. My last school was offered the opportunity to educate the students about logging trucks. So we learnt how many wheels they have, how big the motor is, how heavy the truck and the loads are, and how long it will take a logging truck to brake to a stop.
This is just a snap shot of the awesome experiences rural education can have for students, teachers and families. It is just one aspect of why I love teaching in country schools so much.