In good hands

In addition to my own elementary school experiences, my kids have gone to four public elementary schools, three private schools, and homeschool group field trips. That’s at least ten different school environments and ways of doing things. I have never had such a beautiful school experience as the one on Monday morning here at the local primary school.

I arrived early with S and A so we could finish their registration and meet the principal and teachers. When Principal M introduced the teachers, it sounded like all of the women’s first names were “Fire.” I kept mulling this over on the way home afterwards, thinking it must be the Maori “wh” for the “f” sound. Home again, I looked up “whaia” and then “whaea”—ah, of course! “Whaea” is the Maori word for “Auntie”. At this school, they even call the principal “Whaea M_____”.

The bell rang at 8:45 and students streamed out of their classrooms toward the main meeting room, gumboots kicked off in the window-lined hallway outside. Gathered together in the morning assembly, three older students sat on chairs facing the seated rows of students. The first student spoke in Maori and everyone stood up to sing, while S’s teacher leaned against a table by the wall and played his guitar. These kids can sing. They harmonize.

Another student spoke, and again everyone rose to sing. A third time. I wished I knew the words, I wished I knew what they meant. And yet, when you don’t know the words, the subtext of a situation comes across clearly—this is familiar, safe, beautiful, we like being here, these songs are meaningful, this time together is meaningful.

The principal welcomed everyone back gravely, warmly. There is a gravitas about her and yet more than a hint of humor, and an immediate trust she inspires. She told about her winter break, about gathering armloads of scallops that had washed up on the beach.

She indicated to each adult in turn to share about their winter break with the group. I introduced myself, S, and A, and told about our unusual winter break, about going from summer to winter in 14 hours of overnight flying, about our week in Auckland, about finding so much to like in Rawene, about trying to learn te Reo.

The other teachers and parent volunteers spoke about visiting Christchurch and how the taxicab driver said, “Welcome to our ruined city” even now, in July of 2012. They spoke about catching up on sleep and finding an abandoned boat that the harbormaster couldn’t reunite with an owner. “It’s huge! I mean, from here to…there,” he indicated a stretch of about 6 feet. Giggles from the children. “It fits me, and….me.”

They spoke about spending time with their families and attending sports events and being glad people were using the domain with the goal posts up. They spoke about being glad to see all of their students and being proud of them.

The principal wrapped up the assembly with some rainy day instructions and the teachers led their tamariki out into the hallway to pull on their gumboots again and head to their classrooms.

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