Promising future for Buller students

Issue: Volume 100, Number 13

Posted: 14 October 2021
Reference #: 1HAQSZ

When devastating floods struck Westport in July this year, about 80 members of the Student Volunteer Army from Canterbury University headed north to help. They were fed and looked after by hospitality students and student volunteers from Buller High School.

Ashlee and Phoenix taking part in Buller High School's annual beach clean up.

Ashlee and Phoenix taking part in Buller High School's annual beach clean up.

Feeding large numbers of hungry people is nothing new to the school’s Breakfast Club volunteers, who have been providing breakfast for up to 90 people daily for the past six years. So proficient is the initiative that it was awarded Breakfast Club of the Year in 2019, winning national recognition and a substantial cash prize.

“The programme was initially developed because students were coming to school hungry. But we didn’t want it to be seen as a place only for people who needed food; rather we wanted it to be more a place where people meet, food just brought them together,” explains principal Andrew Basher.

“Numbers were low at the beginning; however, over the last five/six years, it’s become THE place to be in the mornings. We have a group of volunteer students who run it; we also offer barista training and the barista is available for our staff and students who can have a barista coffee in the morning. We sell coffee cards to put money back into the Breakfast Club,” he says.

On the menu

Andrew says that much more than ‘just Weetbix and milk’ is on the menu at the Breakfast Club.

“We get a lot of food items donated – one day you could be having lasagna, apple crumble, meat pasties. Every day there’s toasted sandwiches, cereal and fruit.

“Of course, this has led to a surge of interest in hospitality and being a volunteer, our hospitality numbers are through the roof. There is lots of work in the cafés in town – which are full of our kids doing part-time work,” he says.

On average, the Breakfast Club feeds 50 people per day, including children from the neighbouring schools, some parents and Buller High’s senior leadership team, who meet there for breakfast once a week. Lunch packs are also made for students who want them. The club is led by head of hospitality Jude Eakin, and the school considers the initiative so valuable that a support person is funded to help run the club.

The students’ mahi can be used for assessment, but Andrew says their involvement is about much more.

“We want our kids to achieve as much as possible with NCEA, but that’s not the only skill in life that students need. They need to be good adults and have a sound set of core values that they can live by. And if they can walk out the door with those, then I think we’ve done a good job,” he says.

Pathways and opportunities

Buller High School was first established as a district high school in 1899 and moved to its present site in 1922 and celebrates this centenary next year. The school continues to provide quality education by developing and maintaining a wide range of academic, vocational, recreational, sporting, and cultural courses to meet the changing needs of its community.

And according to Andrew, who has been at the school for more than 20 years, Westport is on a roll and there are plenty of employment opportunities for his students if they wish to stay in the area. Ongoing work opportunities are the silver lining to the July floods, which rendered more than 100 homes unlivable.

“There’s so much work here – especially in the trades. Our students are seeing that there are career opportunities in Westport.

“We’ve had a lot of senior students leaving school for apprenticeships, which is great. All of a sudden, our community has a younger demographic,” says Andrew.

Buller High School feeds into the West Coast Trades Academy, which is based in Greymouth, with an outpost in Westport. While the Academy’s hospitality course is offered through the high school, other courses are only available in Greymouth and once a week, a group of Year 11-13 students travels south to attend a course of their choice.

“Over the years, we’ve had students study everything from childcare, hospitality, and outdoor education, to hairdressing, Māori tourism, and electrical and mechanical engineering,” explains Andrew.

Building futures

Buller High School has a strong careers and pathways department with students supported to find their interests and aspirations.

“Of course, we want them to get a qualification because that does open the most doors; and through Gateway and Trades Academy we’ve got the ability to offer individual pathways. We can design individual courses for these kids and because we know every kid by name, we know their families, it means that we have a strong interest in making sure they achieve,” says Andrew.

There’s also a strong academic pathway, with about
25 percent of the school’s students heading to university, and with a strong performing Arts Department, several each year heading to Christchurch to the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Arts (NASDA), says Andrew.

With many multi-generational families throughout the Buller, the community has a vested interest in helping its youth achieve and succeed.

“The community is really supportive in everything. Even in terms of scholarships – we have a huge number of local scholarships for our students,” he says.

Values for life

Andrew hopes the school’s values, the ‘Four Rs’: responsibility, relationships, resilience and respect, are well-embedded by the time students leave school. The July floods gave students and staff an opportunity to test them.

The school is an early signatory to the Student Volunteer Army and the helpers from Christchurch were joined by 20-30 volunteers from the school.

“Our volunteers fed them over in the Breakfast Club and then all of them, including our students, worked together for the two days – they focused on tidying up North Beach.”

“Our kids saw that there were others like them that just did things because it was a good thing to do. They learned that you don’t always need to take, you can give back to others as well,” says Andrew.

Every year at prizegiving, a former student is invited to share his or her journey to inspire the next generation.

“We want to make sure that our students know there is no excuse for them not to do well at our school,” says Andrew.

“We have the same high expectations and well-trained teachers and staff as any other school in the country. We don’t want them to think that there are limits; we want them to be whatever they want to be.”


West Coast schools affected by boom and bust

For more than a century, schools on the West Coast have come and gone as populations have swelled and declined. The region is now home to about 70 ghost towns – remnants of gold, coal or timber booms.

Gold brought more than 2,000 people to Lyell. Built in 1874, the school roll rose from 52, when the school opened, to 86, in Lyell's heyday.   **smaller font** Buller River Valley, with Lyell school house. Tyree Studio: Negatives of Nelson and Marlborough

Gold brought more than 2,000 people to Lyell. Built in 1874, the school roll rose from 52, when the school opened, to 86, in Lyell's heyday. **smaller font** Buller River Valley, with Lyell school house. Tyree Studio: Negatives of Nelson and Marlborough districts. Ref: 10x8-0733-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22862808(external link)

There’s a photograph of two bare-footed boys and a girl in front of a corrugated iron building surrounded by mist-shrouded bush. You can see the name on the building: Tirinoa School.

Tirinoa, population 200-300, was a settlement during the building of the Buller Gorge Railway in the 1930s. There was a hotel, store, workshop, public works store, engine shop – and a school.

On 14 June, 1916, the Greymouth Evening Star described a trip by members of the Canterbury Board of Education, which was about to take over the West Coast education districts.

“Next morning the whole party drove by motor to Hokitika, having inspected the Otira School and inspecting other schools en route. These schools for the greater part showed signs of past activity only. They consisted for the most part of dilapidated sheds, shacks, and shanties, and schools, which once had boasted large numbers of pupils, could place all now attending in one or two rooms, while the unused portions of the buildings went to rack and ruin.

“This state of things must always more or less prevail upon the Coast, for the mining and sawmilling population are constantly shifting, and what today is a flourishing centre may next year be almost depopulated,” the newspaper reported.

North of Westport

Malcolm Gollan says his late grandmother Lorraine Mosley grew up in Corbyvale on the north side of the Karamea Bluff. In the 1920s, it was a stop on the road between Westport and Karamea (an all-day trip) and about eight families subsisted on small lifestyle blocks.

“Their school was apparently the smallest in New Zealand with only eight pupils: their family made up three of those eight. Most families abandoned Corbyvale when it was cut off by the 1928 Murchison earthquake. They all had to walk out and most never returned,” writes Malcolm.

The school, which was only open from 1921-1929, reopened for a year in 1945 but closed by the end of the year due to a lack of pupils.

Then there was Denniston School in the coalmining township on a plateau more than 2,000 feet above sea level. The principal site of the Westport Coal Company’s extensive operations, established in 1882, was once home to more than 1,500 people. The closure of the Denniston Incline(external link) (a precipitous rail system that carried coal down from the mine) in the late 1960s slowly reduced Denniston to a ghost town.


Denniston School closed in the 1960s; it was one of many schools which has closed on the West Coast as industries have come and gone. School children during a nature lesson, Denniston Incline, West Coast. Pascoe, John Dobree, 1908-1972: Photographic album

Denniston School closed in the 1960s; it was one of many schools which has closed on the West Coast as industries have come and gone. School children during a nature lesson, Denniston Incline, West Coast. Pascoe, John Dobree, 1908-1972: Photographic albums, prints and negatives. Ref: 1/4-001332-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22796250(external link)

School gardens

In June 1920, the Greymouth Evening Star reported that a change to the curriculum had caused consternation among some of the schools on the West Coast as they felt they would have to abandon Elementary Agriculture as a school subject, along with wasted expenditure for tools and fencing school garden plots.

A protest was made to the Department of Education and the response gave “great encouragement to sole teachers to give the pupils in the upper half of the school some simple instruction in scientific methods through the medium of the ‘School Garden’”.

Jack’s Mill School was opened in the small saw-milling settlement of Kotuku in 1909. In 1935, headmaster Edward Darracott was appointed; he was an advocate of a new approach to education in New Zealand, which emphasised experiential learning tailored to the needs of individual children.

Considered revolutionary, Darracott gave his students hands-on projects to teach them practical skills that would equip them for adult life. Making over the school’s garden was the first task. The school’s grounds were laid out in the form of a compass and in the 1930s, the school’s garden won the Best Garden prize for Canterbury and the West Coast.

Once the garden was complete, Darracott’s philosophy of experiential learning was realised on a much more ambitious scale when he led a group of 10-12-year-old students to design, build and furnish a small bungalow, built to three-quarter size. When finished, the bungalow was fully functional, complete with electricity and running water and was used as the home economics room until the close of the school in 1955.

The Department of Conservation bought Jack’s Mill School(external link) in 2004 and it was made a historic reserve. The Kotuku Heritage Society now manages the facility.

Not forgotten

Memories are long-lasting on the Coast and there are groups of community-minded people working to keep them alive.

There were two schools south of Reefton and just a few kilometres apart: Blackwater School (1913-1949) and Waiuta School, which were once at the centre of their thriving communities.

The town of Waiuta was built on top of the South Island’s richest gold mine. At its height 600 people lived there, with a post office, police station, hospital, school, sports ground and several churches. But when the mine shaft collapsed in 1951, the mine closed and people moved away.

The Friends of Waiuta organised a reunion early in July 2021 to mark 70 years since the closure of the Blackwater mine, when the township was abandoned.

Blackwater School opened in 1913 to serve the small mining, sawmilling and farming Blackwater area in the upper Grey Valley. The school still has the original desks and inkwells and a local group is fundraising to save the building before time and weather takes its toll on the 107-year-old building. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:05 am, 14 October 2021

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