A century of TA schooling

One of Te Awamutu’s great recordkeepers,
Ngaire Phillips, with two of the books
she has written – one on Pirongia School, the other on Mangapiko School.

Stories of cracked boilers and near-frozen students are included in an exhibition at Te Awamutu Museum until October 3, chronicling the passage of 100 years of secondary education in Te Awamutu.

“He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!” uses images from the past, a timeline of events and memories of an earlier era to portray the growth of secondary education in the area. After October 3, the exhibition will be shifted to the Te Awamutu College library, where it will be on show for students and staff.

The timeline starts with the 1903 government decision to fund free places in secondary schools for students passing the proficiency exam at the end of standard six. In 1920, Te Awamutu made the cut with the necessary number of 30 eligible students, thereby gaining ministerial approval for the establishment of a District High School, which started in several buildings around the town.

A year later, the school building in Teasdale St was completed; in 1922 a manual training building for woodwork and domestic science was completed in Alexandra St; and in 1939, a consolidated high school with an intermediate department was established on the same site, combining the old manual training block with new classrooms. Te Awamutu College was established in 1947.
While the exhibition celebrates the efforts of those educational pioneers, it also features some colourful memories by students attending the opening day in June 1939 of the consolidated high school in Alexandra St.

“What a glorious mess we were in,” read the musings of one of them. “The carpenters were still sleeping in room 10 and in the art room … there were no desks or tables and chairs for the kids to sit on. We could not light the heaters as the cement under boiler was still damp and the builder was afraid it would crack.”

Later attempts to light the heaters proved the builder right; the boiler cracked and water poured in from an underground spring.

Other recollections are held by Ngaire Phillips, an award-winning Te Awamutu woman who has been recognised for her impressive record-keeping and community service in the area. A young Ngaire Johnson was an early student at the then consolidated school in Alexandra St. It was there she met her future husband, Ron Phillips.

“I’ve always been keen on putting things down on paper, so they won’t get forgotten,” she said.
The former teacher, who taught at Te Awamutu Primary and Pirongia schools before her marriage, has written for as long as she can remember. Included in her extensive memoirs are two books relating the histories of Pirongia School and Mangapiko School and District.

The idea to mark 100 years of secondary education in Te Awamutu is its own story. Clare Ravenscroft, a former head prefect, had completed research on the motto ‘Kia Kaha’ while teaching at the College. This research was placed on the school website and was spotted by another ex-pupil, Peter McGovern, a local farmer currently living in Sydney. He raised the issue of the 100 years of secondary education at a reunion of his classmates held in Raglan earlier this year, an event that included schoolchums from 1960, Mandy Reid (née Mandeno) and dux for that year, Ann Dunphy (née Elliott).

Those conversations led to the decision to mark the 100th, with the upshot being the current exhibition at the museum, and a late-October reunion tea set to be held at Te Awamutu College.

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