Celebrating a century at the heart of the community

Issue: Volume 100, Number 1

Posted: 4 February 2021
Reference #: 1HAG_e

Celebrating its centenary this year, Feilding High School has a rich history in providing agricultural education. Today it works with its community in striving to enable excellence in wherever students’ passions lie.

Feilding High School was established in 1921 to provide agricultural education in New Zealand. From an old brick building in the middle of a cow paddock, it’s become a comprehensive state school with two farms: a 16-hectare dairy farm and an 81-hectare sheep and beef farm.

 “Our goal is to try and enable excellence in our kids in what their passion is,” says Principal Nathan Stewart.

“For some kids it’s agriculture and their interests lie in the vocational pathways; for others it’s the academic side of learning. We are trying very hard and deliberately to look after both sets of students the best we can.

“Our top priority, however, is to help enable excellence in good kids – we make great people first. They are people that are going to respect others, respect themselves and add value to our community.

“Secondary to that are our academic and vocational pathways – creating avenues for kids to have fruitful lives and choices when they leave school to do something they want to do,” says Nathan.

Feilding is a small rural community, so agriculture plays a significant role and is an important part of the local curriculum.

The dairy farm is there to support agriculture and the benefit for the kids is huge. They see and learn good farming practices, but they are also exposed to the financial side of running a farm.

Theory and practice

The Voluntary Milking System allows cows to milk when they want to, which might be once a day or three times a day – it’s up to them. Teachers then link this data into classroom learning. The school is on a path to get the farms more productive and they’re taking the students with them on that journey; they learn both the theory and the practice.

The school has a partnership with companies Carrfields and H&T, in which several parents are involved, and those companies set up real trials, from drenching, different grass types, agricultural plantings, the best way of fattening lambs, through to how to get the best out of the pasture.

“These parents and companies that support us are an immense help – our kids learn agriculture in the classroom and on the farms,” says Nathan.

There’s also a full hostel of approximately 180 students from all over the central North Island. Hostel students can walk across and engage in farm activities after school, so access to learning is boundless.

Shearing competition and opportunities

Last year, for the first time since 1991, the school held a shearing competition. Prior to Covid-19, the shearing preliminaries were held at the farm, with the finals held in the school hall.

“Our school hall was full – there wasn’t enough space!” says Nathan. “Students were keen to watch their mates shear and it was a fantastic opportunity for the shearers to show what they do and how good they are.”

It also brought members of the community into the school, such as shearing judges and other volunteers.

Students can make significant money shearing through summer. Other students spend hours contracting driving tractors or in other skilled jobs.

“We want to continue to build up the farms so the opportunities for our kids are diverse, no matter what they go on to do,” says Nathan.

“The Ministry of Education should be hugely proud that they have an asset like Feilding High School and they’ve allowed it to grow and flourish. It’s a unique part of their own toolbox because it’s ‘ours’.

“We talk about the school being ours because it’s not just for our staff and students, it’s ours collectively to engage with. For the first time this year, we’ve invited people through the farm gate so they can see what’s theirs.”

Belong, Engage, Succeed

Feilding High School has high expectations for every student, says Nathan.

“We’ve got a saying here: Belong, Engage, Succeed. If kids don’t feel like they belong, that they’re part of something, then the engagement suffers.

“We place a huge value on sport and art because through these you learn character. You learn to interact in competitive and social environments – training hard, getting up early – being accountable to others and mixing with different groups of people. Whether they play summer or winter sport, do drama or are in the choir - the more varied experiences our kids can have, the better it is for them.

“We help each individual student find somewhere they belong, and where they can win. It’s key that each kid gets a chance to win somewhere at school. Not everybody will be in the 1st XV in rugby – robotics might be their thing or being in the choir – as long as they have a place where they can win,” he says.

Learning te reo is strong and the school is introducing a more extensive te ao Māori course next year. They are working with local iwi, Ngāti Kauwhata, who are very keen to be involved and share their story to ensure integrity is maintained. Students will go to their marae to do aspects of the course.

Nathan would prefer to see less rhetoric about the lack of achievement for Māori and Pacific students and more focus on those who are achieving.

Māori success

Last year, the head boy, head girl and dux, Hannah Grace were all Māori.

“She (Hannah) was in tears when her dad popped in because she also won the Burge Family Cup for outstanding contribution to upholding the values of Feilding High School. Hannah has a real heart for caring for others and is a wonderful role model.”

Head boy Jonty Stewart, Whakatōhea, was captain of the 1st XV and gained a rugby scholarship to Hawke’s Bay. He’s also an excellence-level student.

“Academically he is outstanding, has a huge work ethic and is utterly reliable,” says Nathan.

“Our students are resilient, resourceful, can solve problems and come together and just work. We’re blessed with a great mix of town and country and when both come together it’s a very special blend of ‘what can’t we do?’.”

Community response to Covid-19

A great example of the community’s resilience and wairua was their support for each other during and after the Level 4 lockdown.

Nathan is hugely proud of the students’ achievements and the way they and staff worked during lockdown. Some students worked on family farms and some full-time at the local supermarket to keep people fed and watered, but they did all this and still balanced their class work.

Nathan is grateful for the wider Feilding community.

“When we have difficult times, this community comes together with amazing belief, resilience and care. Everyone is willing to help.”

Post-lockdown, there were concerns for those students whose parents had lost work, so one of the board members, John Turkington, started paying for lunches.

“Every few days he would turn up with bags of groceries; the food was not just for our vulnerable kids but anyone who wanted lunch. John was very deliberate in getting what the kids needed and he and his wife Angela kept turning up with more groceries every few days. It’s just what they do – and that’s the type of community we have here.”

When the board started bringing in food, the Student Council decided to get involved – they prepared the food and served it.

“It’s not just a job for people here – we’re all about community inside and outside the school gate – what happens outside the classroom matters as well – that’s where you develop the whole person, it’s not just sitting in a row in a classroom.

“That’s why attendance post-Covid has been stable; students have stayed connected to school.”

Sustainable model

The challenges for Nathan and his team are maintaining the change of pace and the opportunities that are available.

“It all works on the quality of the people you have. It’s about creating a model that’s sustainable and continuing to find great people to be part of your team.

“We have been deliberate in targeting teaching heroes that will make sure our kids get a good deal. We’re in the business of people, so hiring the right people is the most important thing we can do.

“Our people are willing to be on the turf at 6am or to spend Friday nights in Palmerston North so students can get to and from sports activities. Our sevens coach will drive to Auckland so the girls can attend a tournament. He has four daughters but still gives up his own time for our kids.”

People such as the sevens coach help make activities accessible for students and Nathan praises the coach, who on one occasion saved parents money by staying in the bach of a past pupil.

“They all got up at 5am and drove to Auckland, played and drove back to Taupo and stayed in the bach overnight before driving back to Feilding on Sunday. The trip was free for everyone involved.

“It’s that continual generosity to try and break down barriers so all kids have an opportunity to do well and succeed. We do have families and whānau that sometimes need support, but we encourage all kids to be what they would love to be.

“It’s giving everyone a chance to achieve - that’s our challenge as a community – to give people opportunities. It’s hard and it’s our job to manage that – some kids deal with things that are outside their control and it’s our responsibility to make sure they have the same opportunities to succeed as everyone.”

100 years of community

Nathan is most proud of the journey the school has been on, and increasingly providing better and better opportunities for their kids.

This year the school will celebrate its centenary, which is being organised by an active Old Pupils Association. People are already registering, he says.

“We have to keep serving the kids as best we can because for them in a small town, they bump into each other all the time. Everyone in our community is effectively our neighbour so we all have a stake in making sure the school functions really well for our kids.”

Nathan explains that this adds to the level of care and commitment because, as the town’s largest, the school is fundamental to the future of the town. It has 1500–1600 learners, 150 staff, three separate entities with the two farms, a hostel, and the wider school – and it’s the only high school in Feilding.

There’s a lot of sharing to make sure the barriers for all kids are set as low as possible: their hockey turf and netball courts are community assets as they’re the only ones in town.

“We also have huge parent support for things like transport and coaching. It’s a special place and we have a huge duty of care to our kids because we’re ‘it’. A good school means that builders have a job, plumbers have a job, the town is growing because it makes it attractive for someone to live and raise their children here, so even at that level it’s important that our school continues to do well for its community. Otherwise the town would get bypassed.

“It’s a lot of pressure but our board just gives and gives and gives. For a voluntary role, it’s phenomenal how many hours they spend here to make sure the school flourishes. And that’s supporting staff and the kids,” says Nathan.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 1:00 pm, 4 February 2021

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts