It’s not very often a school is asked to be on tele. But then it’s not very often a school has to evacuate and take up residence in the town hall.
Bledisloe School suffered considerable damage during Cyclone Gabrielle when the Tutaekuri River breached its stopbank.
“We had extensive silt and mud all over our grounds, fields, driveway and carpark, damage to our bike track around Bledisloe Park, damage to our stormwater and sewer system, our lowest lying classroom was breached by flood water and the carpet has needed to be taken up,” says Bledisloe School principal Carol Bevis.
Carol says the classroom will be unusable until they can replace the carpet.
“The assumption is that the water, mud and silt is contaminated by raw sewerage and so the school will need to be sprayed with a lime solution after the mud and silt is cleaned.”
Clean-up was further challenged due to continued rain earlier in the week and the availability of machinery and contractors, Carol says.
“Everyone is in the same position.”
But there was soon to be a little calm after the storm when office administrator Sharyn Titter was approached by Seven Sharp, saying reporter Julian Lee and a cameraman were in the area and interested in gathering student ‘voice’ after Cyclone Gabrielle, which they felt had been missing during coverage of the disaster.
“They had heard we were working out of the town hall and I agreed they could come.”
Carol says the children had no idea until the TV crew were coming until they arrived with their “big camera and fluffy mike”.
“They were with us for about an hour and were absolutely lovely with the children. The teaching team and myself chose a group of children who we knew had been affected. Some of these were staff members’ children.”
She says the children had been sharing bits and pieces of information since the flooding and the TV interview was a chance for them to show “how amazing they are and how they live their school values of respect, resilience and responsibility every day”.
“Our position was to provide the opportunity for students to talk but not to make a big deal of it. We felt incredibly proud of our tamariki.”
Around 18 students from surrounding areas including Waiohiki, Awatoto, Korokipo Rd and Pakowhai were evacuated from their homes during the cyclone and are housed in temporary accommodation.
One of the stories told to Seven Sharp was from a brother and sister who were rescued from their roof by a helicopter. They described being frightened by this.
“In a lighter moment, Bella spoke about the pig on her mattress. This happened in the following days when they returned to their devastated home. They found their pet pig, very comfortably snuggled up on the silt-covered mattress in her bedroom eating apples that had floated in from the next-door orchard. Her brother exclaimed, ‘he wasn’t even dead!’”
Bledisloe School decided to stay open and operate from the town hall because their community needs them, said deputy principal Cindy Logan, when interviewed on Seven Sharp segment.
“We are here to serve our community. Our community needed us, not only parents who had to get back to work but also those people who needed to be cleaning up and working with insurance assessors and engineers to determine the future of their homes. Our students needed to be with their peers and teachers and feel a sense of normal.”
Carol says the staff has tried to keep the environment as normal as possible to provide a sense of continuity and safety.
“Our staff are amazing. We have been used to being nimble and innovative over the last couple of years of Covid and so were able to use that experience to create teaching and learning programmes with a strong focus on wellbeing and hauora.
“Our staff have their own issues with family and friends affected, difficulties with travel to and from work and the stress of teaching in a small space, away from resources and with no internet. They have remained unfailingly positive, kind and supportive. I am very proud of them.”
In a stroke of luck, the staff had attended a workshop on Trauma Informed Practice at the start of the year.
“Teachers are listening, watching and seeking help if needed. We have a school counsellor working in our school and she will be picking up individual referrals when we return next week. Another avenue we are exploring is the use of our ‘magic play boxes’ alongside a play therapist to give students support to ‘unpack’ their emotions through play.”
Carol says they have had so much support, from parents digging silt, filling wheelbarrows and carting it away for pick up, to dads arriving with diggers and trucks to dump it. Help has also come from before and after-school care provider Beyond the Bell offering free childcare for families from their Westshore site and setting up in the Taradale Sports Club to support working families.
“Our caretaker, Neville Lister, and other contractors are working very hard to make sure that everything possible is being done to open, and Shereen la Roux from Napier City Council has also been accommodating and helpful.”
On Tuesday morning following the interview, the whole school watched the Seven Sharp segment again on the big screen. Some of them had seen it but many had not.
“It prompted lots of laughs and also an opportunity to talk to the tamariki about what Kipa Ormsby’s very wise dad, Cam, had told him about the fact that ‘things can be replaced’. We discussed that although it is tragic and sad to lose homes and possessions, we are fortunate in our school whānau that no lives were lost.”
The school staff has also started their own response fund which has been added to by schools across the country who have a connection with them.
“The kindness has been very humbling. This fund will be used to buy vouchers from shops that can support our whānau to get started in a home again.”
To watch the Seven Sharp segment on Bledisloe School visit Impact of Cyclone Gabrielle from the eyes of Napier schoolkids - YouTube.