Rural school nurtures across the generations

Three generations of the Tanner family have been to Rangiuru. Brian Tanner, 68, his son Paul, 40, and his son Liam 12. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

They signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 that formally ended World War One.

And 100 years ago, they also rang a school bell for the first time at number 659, seven kilometres up Rangiuru Road, and 10km south-east of Te Puke. 

School was in, and unlike the treaty it didn’t change the world, but it would certainly change generations of little lives.

Despite the best efforts of the South Auckland Education Board to close it down several times – dwindling numbers of course – Rangiuru School has survived. It even boasts being the only school in Te Puke to own its own bus. It is flash and it is flourishing.

Before the bell rang in 1919, schoolkids walked, rode horses or were transported by buggy ten kilometres “into town”. That was when sheep and cows ruled Rangiuru Road, and long before kiwifruit were Chinese gooseberries.

Come Friday, March 1 and Saturday, March 2, perhaps more than 100 past pupils, staff and school families will smugly sit down, cock a snook at the board and celebrate 100 years of what principal Mike Gullick describes as: “The best traditional rural school education with modern teaching practices.”

The little one room Kauri classroom which began with a handful of kids on horses is now a three-room, three teacher school with more than 40 kids.

The Weekend Sun held a curtain-raiser to the centenary celebration - a pre-match function. We sat down with a former Rangiuru School teacher, a couple of mums and a former pupil. A country school has plenty of history and plenty of stories.

“There’s heaps of enduring memories,” says Ian Schultz. “Never forget those years.”

He was at Rangiuru from 1961 to 1966, when they took their own milk to school and boiled up cocoa for morning tea, and the kids chopped the kindling to fire up the pot belly. He can’t remember anyone being chased with an axed or any lost digits, but there might be a health and safety issue there now.

There was a concrete block swimming pool in the gully which filled with swamp water. “Except the engineers didn’t get it right, and water flowed out as much as it flowed in,” he recalls. “It was full of mud because there was no filtration.” 

It wasn’t great, but the kids still swam. “Then someone realised Slater’s cow shed was just up the valley, and all the muck was going into and down the stream.”

The committee closed the pool and a few years later built a new one.

Alan Hintz remembers most kids of his day going to school on horseback. “When we fell off, Mrs Johnstone would simply ring Mum to say she had just seen a horse go by without a rider.” No crisis, and what else was there to say? 

He also spent a lot of time in the school gully digging caves. “The only time I ever smoked tobacco was in those caves at lunchtime. Before afternoon class, we would eat onion tops from the school garden in the hope that the teacher wouldn’t smell smoke on our breath.”

What about distinguished Rangiuru alumni – any prima ballerinas, baritones, scientists, All Blacks or PMs?

No household names, but the curtain-raiser group points to the special qualities like caring, nurturing and leadership that a small country school education creates. “The head girl, head boy, head prefect type of person,” says Shirley Bailey, whose daughter Beth was head girl at Te Puke High.

Karen May taught at Rangiuru for 14 years. “The year groups are quite small, so they all have to play with kids who are younger or older,” she says.

“Otherwise you would have no mates and no one to play with. The older kids develop a more caring, nurturing attitude which is recognised when they get to college. They’re not afraid to break away from their own age group and mix and talk with anyone. It serves them well.”

There is academic success - a scientist. Judy Tanner’s boy David went to Rangiuru in 1977. He graduated from calf and lamb days to become a doctor of food science. He was head-hunted by an Australian company, returned to work for Zespri and now runs his own successful company.

A school is only as good as its teachers, and Fred Williams, a Polynesian teacher from the Cook Islands was a good teacher and a helluva nice bloke, according to Ian Schultz.

“He had a great influence and he spared me the rod,” says Ian. “He never used it - not like my first teacher who freely used both ruler and strap. He would rap me across the knuckles for not getting the times table right, and it just made me worse and more likely to get them muddled.”

But as far as Ian can remember, there was no bullying at Rangiuru. “It just didn’t happen, because everyone knew each other, respected each other and had to get on. There weren’t enough people to form factions or gangs.”

What about suspensions or expulsions – did they happen? “They would happen, but they were very, very rare,” says ex-teacher Karen. “In all the years I was there, I can only recall two incidents.”

From Monday to Friday, the school bus isn’t headed down Rangiuru Road taking the country kids into town - it’s headed up the road taking the townies to a special education experience in the country. How does that work?

“There are a lot of pluses and they aren’t missing out on anything,” she says. “Some parents want their children to have a more intimate education environment and better teacher-pupil ratios, but there’s a lot of technology here.”   

And then there’s The Shrubbery, or if you are young and cool, like a new entrant to year eight, “The Shrub” - the school’s very own copse of native trees such as Totara and Kauri.

“In the summer, The Shrubbery is the coolest place as well as being the coolest place,” recalls another ex-pupil. “Cool and cool. It was started by teacher Ron Halls in the 1960s and the kids helped plant it.”

Apparently a young teacher planted a Kauri when she went off to get married. That was 40 years ago.

It’s a special school of special people, special places and special things all set for a second special century of rural education experience.

Tickets for the Rangiuru School Centenary celebrations can be purchased via: www.eventfinda.co.nz

Contact the office at Rangiuru School on: (07) 5737035, email: rangiuruschool.co.nz, or contact Karen May on: 027 6515550 or: rjandkmmay@gmail.com

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