Country school decides to close on positive note

ANGELA CUMING
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2012
SCHOOL'S OUT, FOREVER: Whitehall School’s last pupils went out with a smile. Zoe Dromgool, left, Mrs Maree Herbert (principal), Bryttany Lovich, William Thomas, Kawa Heta-Phillips, Tuata Heta-Phillips, Vincent Tipene, Fraser Kneebone and Jack Mitten.
MARK TAYLOR

SCHOOL'S OUT, FOREVER: Whitehall School’s last pupils went out with a smile. Zoe Dromgool, left, Mrs Maree Herbert (principal), Bryttany Lovich, William Thomas, Kawa Heta-Phillips, Tuata Heta-Phillips, Vincent Tipene, Fraser Kneebone and Jack Mitten.

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The Whitehall School, south of Cambridge, has closed after 125 years of educating the town's young.

The rugged farming community has simply run out of children and yesterday the school's eight remaining students bid a final farewell to principal Maree Herbert.

It was, says Mrs Herbert, a day of mixed emotions.

"We came to the decision that ‘yes', in the end, it was the best decision to make," she said

"In the end we had to look at what was practical, what was reasonable and what was best for the children."

The school has struggled in recent years with a drop in enrolments and limited funds. The decision to close was voluntary, she said.

"There are not as many farming families in the area as there once was.

"And the older farming families, some of the children are not taking over the family farms.

"The school financially was struggling because we get money from the ministry but anything extra we have to fundraise for and everybody was getting burnt out with fundraising."

The school has always had strong ties to the local community and emotions inevitably ran high when the school announced its closure, Mrs Herbert said.

"You had to put aside the emotion a little bit, particularly because the community feels quite strongly about the school, so we decided on two things that were the main reasons (to close the school) and they were changes and choices."

But in true small-town fashion, the school decided to go out with a smile.

"We decided if we were going to do this we were going to do it in the most positive way possible," said Mrs Herbert.

"Our whole idea was that if we are going to close we are going to do it with dignity and in a fun way, but not forgetting that people are sad.

"We are sad this is happening but we are also celebrating the fact that so many children have had such a great time here.

"The kids have been saying they don't want to go to another school but they understand they have to, but we know once they get to their new school they will love it, that's why we are making the closure a positive thing so they go with the right attitude."

For its final weeks the school planned fun activities for past and present pupils, and set up a "memory room" where people could look at old photographs and memorabilia found around the school. A fancy dress disco has been held, and an official closing ceremony saw generations of Whitehall School families come and pay their respects.

Mrs Herbert remains philosophical about shutting the school gate for the last time.

"I would like Whitehall School to be remembered for the great opportunities for the children.

"To me, a school is like a church - it's the people inside it that's important."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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