Rotorua Intermediate School is mourning a first-year teacher with a big heart and a larger-than-life personality — a role model students will remember forever.
Ashley Chand, 29, did not have a full year in his career as a teacher before his death on Thursday after a short illness.
Today, students performed a haka waiata for Chand after his coffin was driven to the school. Many friends and whānau in the procession got out to watch the school's performance.
Two of the teachers who worked alongside Chand told the Rotorua Daily Post reality hit home when they walked in on Friday and he wasn't there. They were faced with the worst task in their teaching careers — telling the students the teacher they "adored" had died.
After hearing he had died, the 150 students in his whānau (form group) did a haka, just as they did the last time they saw him two weeks ago — just as they did as he was driven past the school today.
He started at the school in January as a first-year teacher straight out of university and taught a whānau of 150 students alongside five other teachers.
Chand was originally from Rotorua, attending Western Heights High School.
Fellow teachers Rebecca Steers and Rachel Rowe were in his whānau team and struggled to put into words just what kind of person he was.
The pair, who have 41 years of teaching between them, said Chand had a presence that lit up the school.
He had an infectious laugh, an ever-extended helping hand, and a love for the school community, they said.
"His personality was just larger than life ... a beautiful soul," Rowe said.
Finding out about his death was "devastating" and didn't feel real.
Without him, a "bit of the jigsaw is missing".
The reality hit hard on Friday when they walked in and he wasn't there, and telling the students was the "hardest thing" they had done in their careers.
"He was kind and generous, he loved every student, loved us as a team, he made us laugh with his infectious laugh."
As well as teaching, Chand coached a touch team in the first term and was coaching a basketball team for the winter. He also helped support work with the prefects.
"He'd always turn up to be a help," Rowe said, from helping with everyone's fundraising to offering to do other teachers' duties.
"He's really giving, and didn't ask for much in return."
Had he been given a chance for his teaching career to play out, he would have been one of a kind, they said.
"He would be the teacher that every student would fondly remember when they're 20. They would go 'remember Matua Ashley at Rotorua Intermediate, he was the best'," Rowe said.
"He would be one teacher, or person, or role model that the kids would never, ever forget.
"He was really loved."
Principal Garry de Thierry said although Chand was only starting his teaching career, the school had already been seeing "signs of him becoming a very successful teacher".
"It has been said that a successful teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart," he said.
"His passing has definitely resulted in an immense loss to the students at Rotorua Intermediate, and to the teaching profession."
Steers said Chand was "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with so much passion and enthusiasm ... and a big, beautiful heart".
"You feel his presence when he's in the room; when he's teaching a class; when you walk in in the morning and he greets us with this massive hello."
He was "adored" by students, Steers said. She explained that teaching, especially at an intermediate age, was a lot about building relationships.
"It's really devastating for the kids."
On Friday, all 150 students in the whānau group acknowledged Chand in their version of a poroporoaki (farewell speech).
"They were told together, we cried together, we smiled through our tears together with some of the things we were all remembering."
Those memories ranged from his impeccable ability to make light of situations, to telling students off then giving them a lolly to make them feel better.
The students sang waiata, and some spoke with love and courage about the impact Chand had on them and how they wanted to remember him, Steers said.
"This was all from the students ... as teachers, we sat right back and let the children say what they needed to say and express what they needed to express."
They then did the haka for him, as they did for him last time they saw him last Friday.
"They just love him."
Chand's whānau drove his coffin past the school on Monday, with students lining Malfroy Rd to do the school haka.
Steers said haka waiata was important to Chand; something he "adored and loved," and he supported students with it.
"It's our school's way of acknowledging and saying goodbye."