School closes after 103 years

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 04/07/2014

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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.

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- The Southland Times

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