School set to celebrate past and present

By Erika Venter

Ratapiko School will celebrate its 125th jubilee this weekend, looking back on a proud history of serving the local community.

It is one of the oldest schools in Central Taranaki and nearly 300 people will attend the jubilee, including past students and staff and families involved with the school over the years.

One of the classrooms will be remodelled to give visitors a window into the past and a time capsule, buried at the school's centennial celebrations, will be dug up and replaced with a new capsule, filled with current day objects and letters written by students.

The students will also sing songs and give dancing demonstrations, both contemporary and from times past.

"It is a comparison between past and present. We treasure our heritage, but also look forward to the future," says principal Andrew Birchler.

Appointed principal last year, he says he immediately noticed how close knit the community is with everyone pitching in at the school.

"We are small, but we are adamant about offering our students the best education possible. There is the perception that we will close down because we are small, but that is wrong. Our size makes us unique and it is an advantage, with each pupil receiving personal attention."

Some families can trace their connection to the school through generations.

The Dravitskis have been one of the pioneer Polish families in the area and even though there is no Dravitski on the school roll at the moment, the family is still involved with the school.

The Grigg family trace their connection to the school back to the early 1900s with Sophie Grigg the fifth generation attending there. Her dad, Jason, is currently chairperson of the school board.

Another board member, Boyd Young, has had two sons and a daughter at the school and a first grandchild, William, also currently attending.

Former students who have made their mark in their chosen professions are attending the 125th jubilee, including local farmers, former Taranaki rugby player Laurence Corlett and animal geneticist Dr Brian Wicham, who is coming from Britain to attend the jubilee.

Boyd Young says the make-up of the district has changed as farms got bigger and farming families got smaller.

"There are now more lifestyle block holders and a number of people who live here work elsewhere," he says.

"The post war baby boomers used to fill the seats, but there are now much less children living in the district. We still have a strong sense of community, but a different sense of community."

The original school building, nicknamed The Den, is still standing but has been renovated. The current main block was added in 1946 and another classroom in 1964.

"The school may have changed during the years, but the heart of the school and the community is still beating strong," says Andrew.

- Stratford Press

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