It takes a village

An opinion on learning in Whaingaroa…

When I was about 10 years old my mother informed me that our family was moving to Raglan. I was devastated.

Having grown up in Auckland, my memories of Raglan at age 10 consisted of endless gravel roads leading to nothing but bush and beaches.

At the time my family lived in Milford, which is a suburb on Auckland’s North Shore. The area wasn’t quite as busy as inner-city Auckland, but it definitely had the creature comforts of a town centre with its shopping mall, marina and picturesque white sand beach. I guess you could describe Milford as the antithesis of Raglan in terms of values.

To try and console me about moving to a small town, my mother offered to enroll me in a ‘city’ school but the thought of having to sit in a bus for over two hours every day was so unbearable that I refused.

I didn’t really have any expectations on my first day attending Raglan Area School but the one thing that struck me was the amount of Māori students at the school and the amount of Māori that was spoken at the school.

The roll at the intermediate school that I attended before moving to Raglan included about 1% Māori. The school had a higher number of East Asian and other Pacific Island nationalities than it did Māori students. During assembly the students would sing the national anthem and that theme song from the T.V show, Friends.

I attended RAS between the years 2000 and 2004 and I’d say the roll would’ve included around 50% Maori. Until I came to this school, I’d never experienced a powhiri or stepped foot on a marae or learnt kapa haka (or sung any Māori song that wasn’t a preschool level waiata for that matter).

I still remember my first day pretty vividly. I didn’t really know what to expect but straight off the bat three local girls asked who I was and made sure that I wasn’t alone. I was so touched by their sense of manaakitanga, that kindness and aroha extended to me, a complete stranger.

Back in September I attended Malcolm Cox’s poroporoaki event, a formal farewell, as he left his position as principal of RAS. Malcolm was deputy principal when I attended the school, so while I never experienced him as a principal, we did work together at times while I was head girl in 2003.

Malcolm was also my math teacher. Probably one of my favourite math teachers actually. I have always been pretty good at math so I enjoyed the class anyway but Malcolm made math interesting because he’d always teach you a shortcut or some trick that made you see the problem a little differently.

I’d always been a good learner, especially when it came to school. To be honest though, I’d never tried very hard because everything came easily to me. I guess you could say I got good marks but I was never really personally invested in my learning achievements.

I realised how blasé my attitude was toward said achievements on the day of my NCEA Level 1 mathematics exam.
I must’ve got my dates or times mixed up but for some reason I didn’t think I had anything important to do that day. I was happily asleep in bed unaware that I was about to completely miss my exam.
My mother had just assumed I knew all my exam dates so didn’t even question why I was sleeping in. Luckily, Malcolm pulled up at my house on his motorbike to personally wake me up, just in time for me to get to my exam – 10 minutes late.

Apparently if I didn’t take the exam, the entire school’s NCEA result would be much lower, or that’s what they told me anyway to get me out of bed.

Being a shy, self-involved teenager, I didn’t really understand the significance at the time but looking back, I’m not sure that any other teacher living outside of this community would have done that for me. Being in my thirties now, I realise that education is not just about knowledge and achievements but also about building character.

During the speeches at Malcolm’s poroporoaki, those that stood up spoke of his willingness to reach out and continue the connection with the Maori community, his integrity and honesty, his ability to work with teenagers and also about his support for the community whether that was to implement a “crazy idea” like the Surfing Academy or opening up the school facilities for the community during times of mourning.

Math is one of those subjects where there is usually a correct answer. Being good at math doesn’t teach you things like wairua or respect though and I think Malcolm was even better at teaching life’s intangibles than concepts like math.

Thank you, Malcolm, for the 33 years you dedicated to Raglan Area School and for personally coming to wake me up that morning (among the various other things you have done for me).
Hopefully you can now spend your days with your family and embarking on your new journey working in poignant ta tou pounamu.

Maki Nishiyama