Primary school children are having to camp out in all weathers for lessons in the three Rs, reports John Landrigan.

Jessica Lamont is practising to ride a bike in a duathlon (actually a triathlon, if you count the water slide) to raise money for a school hall.

It's a pity that, after all the 10-year-old's efforts, she won't be around to reap the benefits. The hall won't be built until well after she leaves her school.

Maddoc Lawson, has been training, too but at just 6 years old, he may, at least, benefit from a partly finished building.

Advertisement

For eight years many children like Jessica and Maddoc have made huge efforts to raise money. Hundreds of parents and teachers have also worked exceedingly hard to install a hall.

Westmere Primary needs a new hall because the school's roll grew so much the pupils could no longer fit into the old one; so rapidly, the old hall had to be converted into classrooms.

Children aged from 5, like Jessica and Maddoc, meet under a canvas ceiling stretched over a concrete courtyard, says school principal Carolyn Marino.

"We meet in the 'super-top'. It can get bitterly cold and rain gets in. Sometimes they huddle into friends to keep warm. Sometimes we get blankets from the sick bay to put over them."

Mrs Marino looks as tired as she feels, but is more concerned about the effects on parents constantly dipping into their pockets or donating precious time.

"We can't keep going to the community and asking for money. We are exhausting our community. We have five people working on grants, 12 parents putting on a triathlon.

"We've been fundraising for over eight years. Over $150,000 has been raised by parents whose children are no longer at the school."

It has become so desperate, she says, many schools cannot initiate an event that would raise less than $40,000 because of the ultimate burnout of parents.

Advertisement

"We have a major deficit for staffing. Our class sizes will be bigger next year. We can't afford that. Children bus to the Ponsonby Community Centre for after-school programmes and put on performances at Western Springs College, because there is no hall in Westmere."

The school has raised $800,000 but is still $390,000 short, says Mrs Marino.

"Who has disposable income at this time? The system is not working. It is hard on us."

Today, a building is rising in the school grounds. Jessica and Maddoc are enjoying watching it "grow".

But this is only phase one. The hall, when up, will only be a lined shell. Phases two and three will add a much-needed kitchen and some inner walls.

See also our call for information: What's holding your kids back?