Adversity comes with a silver lining

Mike Williams, principal Pakuranga College says there are plenty of lockdown lessons to put to good use this year. Times photo Farida Master

Covid has changed our lives forever.

It’s been an overwhelming Corona-coaster for students as they virtually transitioned from onsite to online learning in Google classrooms. For some the ride was brutal while others managed to navigate the ups and downs of a new reality.

Talking to the Times three weeks after school reopened for the year, Mike Williams, principal of Pakuranga College says there are plenty of lessons to learn from lockdown.

“It’s given us more clarity about what is truly important. It’s taught us things about ourselves and about New Zealand.

“The second lockdown last year was a lot harder. We missed contact with our students and teachers. Now it is up to us to amplify those lessons we learnt,” he says.

Williams remotely addressed the staff and teachers at Pakuranga College on video at the beginning of the year.

“I had to attend a powhiri at Mount Aspiring College since our former deputy principal Nicola Jacobsen has been appointed as the new head of school.

“After doing things differently during lockdown, I realised I could still address the teaching staff without being physically there at Pakuranga College. It was possible to be at two places at the same time.

“We had a traditional Maori welcoming ceremony for Jacobsen at Mount Aspiring College.

The event was attended by members of the Wanaka community and the local Ngai Tahu. I was there with our head boy and head girl for the ‘handing over’ of care for Ms Jacobsen.”

Adversity and silver linings

Talking about pushing boundaries, Williams says that last year was incredibly difficult for some students.

“It was challenging but then from adversity comes silver linings in terms of an accelerated digital journey.

“While our students were used to digital learning, the lockdown taught us to be flexible. It introduced us to a different way of learning.

He says that unlike other schools, they didn’t duplicate a school day, digitally.

“Teachers were told they didn’t need to follow the school timetable for remote learning. Our teachers took smaller groups instead of the whole class at one time. They had shorter Zoom meetings which was easier.

“Despite everything, I have to say that we were very pleased with our results-the Merits and Excellences.”

New building, a significant build

The upcoming building block at Pakuranga College is a first-of-its-kind, prototype recommended for schools by the Ministry of Education.

The new construction that costs in excess of $6 million is a significant build, says Williams.

The building that has been architecturally put together with a standardised design will house the Special Education Pegasus Unit at the ground level.

A Digital Technology department will be housed on one side at the upper level.

“We’ve agreed to be part of a project so that other schools that are going through expansion or redevelopment can come and have a look at the standardised design that saves costs.”

While the Ministry of Education has largely funded the project, the college has also contributed over $1m to the new build.

“This is a big step in our journey of the long-term property plan,” says Williams.

“Once the building is ready by mid-year, we will remove eight of the prefab structures currently serving as temporary classrooms. Once they go, it will open up the site for us.”