School closes after 103 years

Blackmount school in Western Southland is closing its door for the final time this week. It has been around for 103 years. Its three pupils are Nikita Gow, 12, Sarah Slee, 9, and Harry Mather, 5.
Blackmount school in Western Southland is closing its door for the final time this week. It has been around for 103 years. Its three pupils are Nikita Gow, 12, Sarah Slee, 9, and Harry Mather, 5.
Blackmount School's three pupils Nikita Gow, 12, Sarah, Slee, 9, and Harry Mather, 5, serve parents their pumpkin soup first course.
Blackmount School's three pupils Nikita Gow, 12, Sarah, Slee, 9, and Harry Mather, 5, serve parents their pumpkin soup first course.
Busy in the Blackmount School kitchen making the three course lunch for the families are, from left, Helen (in back), Sarah, and Nikita.
Busy in the Blackmount School kitchen making the three course lunch for the families are, from left, Helen (in back), Sarah, and Nikita.
Principal Linda Lewis and second teacher Helen Scott with Harry (in front), Linda, Sarah and Nikita.
Principal Linda Lewis and second teacher Helen Scott with Harry (in front), Linda, Sarah and Nikita.
Enjoying the school's adventure playground are, from left, Sarah, Harry and Nikita.
Enjoying the school's adventure playground are, from left, Sarah, Harry and Nikita.
Nikita, left, and Sarah play on the adventure playground.
Nikita, left, and Sarah play on the adventure playground.
Blackmount School pupils, from left, Nikita, Harry and Sarah beside the Centennial plaque from 2011.
Blackmount School pupils, from left, Nikita, Harry and Sarah beside the Centennial plaque from 2011.
Blackmount School pupils, from left, Nikita, Sarah and Harry during their morning tea break.
Blackmount School pupils, from left, Nikita, Sarah and Harry during their morning tea break.
The Blackmount School bell with the hills under a light coating of fresh snow.
The Blackmount School bell with the hills under a light coating of fresh snow.
Harry, Nikita and Sarah busy on the school's iPads.
Harry, Nikita and Sarah busy on the school's iPads.
An art work from Blackmount School Golden jubilee in 1961.
An art work from Blackmount School Golden jubilee in 1961.
Harry, Nikita and Sarah with their paintings they have made of their special memories at Blackmount School.
Harry, Nikita and Sarah with their paintings they have made of their special memories at Blackmount School.
Blackmount School pupils and teacher Helen Scott working on their banner they have hand made to present to the community.
Blackmount School pupils and teacher Helen Scott working on their banner they have hand made to present to the community.

When the bell rings at Blackmount School this afternoon, it will not only mark the start of the winter holidays but it will signal the end of lessons forever.

The Western Southland school is closing today after 103 years of education.

Blackmount's three remaining pupils, Nikita Gow, 12, Sarah Slee, 9, and Harry Mather, 5, will be sitting in new classrooms, in new schools, next term.

This week, the trio enjoyed their last few days together.

"It's quite big for only three people," Sarah says.

The school once boasted a roll of 40. Now, it has more iPads than pupils, the cost of isolation taking its toll.

The decision to close was not an easy one, principal Linda Lewis says.

The school, roughly halfway between Tuatapere and Manapouri, was opened in 1911 and has always been a hub in the rural community.

However, it became clear the school could not remain viable after a survey revealed only eight potential pupils for the next few years, Lewis says.

The community made the hard decision to go into voluntary closure in February.

It has been an especially difficult decision for Lewis, who has been part of the school since 1989.

She was there when fire destroyed the building in 1995, there when Deputy Prime Minister Bill English unexpectedly popped in for a cuppa one morning.

She will also be there when the school officially closes.

"I know it's all happening, but it's still going to be funny to walk in here next term and there won't be any children. In a way, [the school has] been like a family."

It's hard to keep a secret in such a close-knit setting, but the pupils have crafted a surprise for their principal - a special banner commemorating their last days at the school.

There are the snow-topped hills, sewn on above the tiny school, and a giant tree, embellished with buttons.

Out of the tree, three colourful birds are poised, ready to take flight.

"We're the birds, flying away," Harry said.

A closing function will be held at Blackmount School on July 19, ahead of the official closing date of July 20.

The Southland Times