Puketaha School principal Bob Moffitt has one small regret. Earlier this year when the school was re-enacting the battle of Rorke’s Drift he wanted to be one of the British.
“Instead, I had to be the Zulu warrior leader and lead the students – all of whom were Zulus.”
The students, however, made up for this by enthusiastically taking part in the famous South African battle of 1879, on the school’s sports ground. “They all dressed up as Zulus, with shields, and learned various chants. We showed them the 1964 movie.”
It was, he says, a heap of fun and worked really well. “We followed the historical course of the battle very closely but at the end there were flour bombs and much hand shaking.”
It was also educational. “This I am sure they will remember. Afterwards, the kids asked ‘did they really fight like that in those days?’ Yes, they did. ‘And did they really stand and look at each other?” Yes, they did. ‘Did they really go to war wearing bright red colours, with white targets across their fronts?’ It was a great way to help them understand what took place and why.”
The idea for the re-enactment came about after a surprise visit at the school one day.
“This gentleman walked in off the road, in full Victorian military uniform, and introduced himself as Major Blunder. He is a member of Alf’s Imperial Army, and he said he wanted to hold a battle – so we made the arrangements.”
It worked so well Major Blunder is returning before the end of the year to help re-enact the Battle of Hastings, which might be a bit trickier.
“One of our eight-year-olds came back the next day with lots of facts about the Battle of Hastings, he’s done all the research.”
Learning, he believes, happens when the child is actively involved. “It makes it more dynamic, more exciting for them. All the rest follows.”
Bob has been almost 30 years at the school; when he arrived it had 60 children and two teachers. Now the student roll is 260, and there are 11 teachers – which is just right. “It can get too big; we like it this size.”
The school is very much part of the community, he says. “There’s not much here in Puketaha. There is a hall, and a bit further down, a garage, but we’re pretty much at the heart of it.
“We’re still very much a country school, with a country feel, very family oriented, and very friendly. We like to think of ourselves as continuing to improve. There’s a lot of good, young teachers here, we’re all learning together.”
He is keen to experiment with new ideas – for the third year the school is teaching students golf, a US programme called First Tee.
“It was in use at Manukau City, but nowhere else, so we decided to start it ourselves. It’s aimed at the boys, and improving their interaction skills. Golf is all about etiquette, good manners, being polite, some of these are behaviours that boys could do with brushing up. It does work, we talk to them about why they’re doing things, and it’s just good for them to play golf as well.”
Girls also get a chance to take part, but they have other sports to get involved with – there are seven netball teams at the school.
“We have a huge sports focus. Kids can spend too long sitting in front of computers and games; participation is important, it doesn’t matter what it is.”
It could be remote controlled airplanes, one of which is hanging from the ceiling. Another, a World War II Focke, rests in a corner.
“It’s probably me thinking of my youth, I made model trains, boats, planes, it was just what you did. I decided it would be good to have introduce the students to model planes here and it’s been great, everyone loves it. Two boys are coming in soon to see about attaching floats to the plane, because we’re hoping to land her on the Karapiro River at our school camp this November. We need to do a bit of practice before then.”
There’s also the Battle of Hastings to plan. The question is – will he be William of Normandy or King Harold?