Tuesday 28th May 2024
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Over the Gate with Merlyn Thompson

Never work with children or animals, they say; Merlyn Thompson, works with both! And, with 13 years of teaching under her belt, this local lifestyler (who teaches youngsters from year 0-2 at Hunua School) is also the school’s Ag Day committee secretary. Ahead of Hunua’s event (Oct 28), we posed a few questions to Merlyn… over the gate.

Ready for Ag Day – Merlyn with daughter, Sarah, and show hopeful, Hercules. Photo Wayne Martin

Are Agricultural/Calf Club/Country Days still as relevant as they were years ago?

Agricultural Days are one of the points of difference for rural schools. At Hunua School, one of the trophies goes back to 1930 something!

For generations people have attended our event and still do so. We have patrons that have come back every year since attending the school to show their support.

We also have past pupils and parents who donate their time and money. This event is very important to the school as well as the local and wider communities.

How important is it that children understand what goes into raising an animal?

In a society that seems dominated by screens (on phones, ipads, etcetera), it’s even more important that students learn through hands-on experiences which come about when raising animals.

The students need to feed, brush, care for them, learning that different animals require different care. They are also exposed to real life situations, such as when their animals get sick and perhaps (unfortunately) they may learn how to deal with death.

Are your own children raising animals for Hunua’s Ag Day this year?

Sarah has raised calves since starting school – this is her seventh year with Ag Day. She has done quite well, with two reserve champion calves receiving a variety of ribbons. This year, her calf is named Hercules. We buy at least two calves a year – one for Sarah for Ag Day and one for me. When they are two years old, or become a bit hard to handle in the paddock, we sell them at the Tuakau Sales. My stock agent laughs at me because I put their names on the NAIT forms!

I have two other children who were raised in Manurewa. However, when we moved to Franklin in 2004, they attended Waiuku College, which doesn’t hold such events.

What does Hunua School’s wider Ag Day programme involve? How important is it to the school?

Every child must raise something (whether it be an animal or a garden), students create between four to six pieces of Ag Day art, which is displayed on the day.

This day is also our school’s biggest fundraiser of the year. A great deal of work goes behind the scenes from both the Ag Day committee (ribbons, rosettes, judges, trophies, setting up rings, marquees, etc) and the PTA (food, drinks, raffles, white elephant, games, etc).

We all love our Ag Day. It is a very collaborative event and it’s enjoyed by all, rain or shine.

On Ag Day do you expect to see people who are not connected to your school coming along just for the experience?

Most definitely! We advertise from Manurewa through to Bombay through the use of signage and fliers. We’re expecting to see plenty of people from other local schools – here to check out the competition – in particular.

Some come because they don’t have such events at their schools. Both my grandchildren attend our Ag Day. Because they go to town schools, they don’t have events of their own.

Are children from town schools missing out if their schools don’t hold such events?

Town schools often have their own community involvement events, such as gala days and cultural days which are relevant to their communities.

In brief, what’s the funniest incident you’ve encountered during a school Ag Day?

Dunk the teachers! There was a queue of students a mile long wanting to pay money to dunk a teacher. One teacher’s son was giving children money to dunk his mother.

If you could grow any plant or raise any animal (real of imagined) what and why?

A dragon as they would have to be the coolest creatures ever!

If you could be Minister of Education for one day, what would you do first?

Put more funding into helping students who struggle. Setting up writing recovery and maths recovery programmes and keeping reading recovery programmes, where experienced teachers work with students to accelerate their learning in these areas that they need assistance.

If you could invite any three people (living or dead) to dinner, who and why?

Jack White – the greatest guitarist (in my opinion) who has ever lived. Rudolf Nureyev – the greatest ballet dancer who ever walked this earth (a god to me!), and Dr Seuss – he’s my favourite author.

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