Kelly Bicknell says her first year as Pirongia School principal has been challenging but amazing.
She feels sad for the students who because of Covid lockdown missed out on events such as school camps but then she looks at the resilience those same students showed when they returned to the classrooms
“We’ve just grown students who are not going to take things for granted,” she says.
The school has also introduced a new student – a stuffed toy called Twinkle whose job it is to “have a lot of fun.”
Twinkle is a Christmas elf who features prominently in the school newsletters and helps children adjust back into school life by hiding in special spots around the school. The newsletter is full of pictures of Twinkle participating in various activities.
“We’re here to get children, happy, connecting and interacting. They love seeing Twinkle.”
Bicknell and her Waipā school cluster successfully sought funding to provide counselling for students affected by the lockdowns.
The counsellor visits once a week and is making a big difference.
The latest setback for the school’s 400 plus students and Pirongia is the decision not to open the school pool for community use during the holidays. Usually, the school sells keys which helps offset maintenance costs.
One on one swimming lessons can continue under public health restrictions under the traffic light system, but it would be impossible for the board of trustees to manage the facility for the community over the holiday period.
“This has been a difficult decision as we know what a great summer asset having the pool open for the community to use,” she says.
The decision meant the school had to hand back half of the $1500 it was allocated by Pirongia Ward committee’s discretionary fund to provide children with the daily opportunity to develop water skills, and to have the facility open to the community outside of school hours.
Bicknell, husband Shaun and their three children moved to Pirongia earlier this year when she got the job at Pirongia.
She had been principal at the smaller Galatea School, in the Whakatāne district, for just over three years and they lived on the Bicknell dairy farm where they were the sharemilkers.
When the opportunity to be principal at the bigger Pirongia School came up, Bicknell, a Massey University graduate, knew it was the right role for her. They sold their cows and equipment and moved to Waipā. Shaun works for NZ Farmers Livestock Ltd.
Two of their children are at Pirongia School; the oldest is at Te Awamutu College.
“Being a principal and leader of a school is an absolute privilege. While it’s important to value the past and people that have been before you, it is rewarding to achieve new goals and wonderful things at your school,” says Bicknell.