1 Sep 2021

Covid-19: School bubbles make most of unique lockdown experience

11:34 am on 1 September 2021

RNZ may have found one of the country's largest bubbles - Whanganui Collegiate School, which has allowed nearly a 100 students and staff to remain on-site during lockdown.

Members of Solway Girls College bubble.

Members of Solway Girls College bubble. Photo: Supplied

At least 19 boarding schools are in the same position, and will remain in these unique school-bubbles throughout alert level 3.

Whanganui Collegiate School Principal Wayne Brown said the school, which had on-site houses for staff and their families, was making the most of its unique situation.

"We've got our online learning that we do, we have activities in the afternoon, we make sure we do some fitness, we have some games, we have opportunities for some down-time, there's movies at night, and we obviously have dining hall for dinner," he said.

"We have a great opportunity to connect with one another, there's enjoyment, there's space and we're very lucky."

He reckoned it was probably one of the biggest bubbles in the country, and the decision to allow some students to stay was a necessary one.

"Apart from probably rest homes, hospitals and prisons I definitely think that we would probably be up there for one of the largest bubbles, last year and this year, in the country," he said.

"For our domestic students, under the ministry's guidelines, they had to head home. The only ones we've kept here are the students without the ability to go home and those are the students who live overseas."

Masterton's Solway Girls College principal Janine Tupaea has temporarily moved out of her home to help boarding staff look after the 10 remaining students.

She said it was the right decision when the country quickly moved into lockdown.

"To sit there and hear suddenly we were going into lockdown that night, my immediate thought went to our boarding students, and I knew that them hearing that news would be of concern to them.

Whanganui Collegiate College

Whanganui Collegiate College Photo: Supplied

"So I quickly got back into some work clothes, came back to school and I got a message to the students, the families and the boarding team that I was on my way back to school and I would meet all students in the dining room to reassure them that we would keep a bubble open so that all the students would be taken care of and none of the families would need to worry," she said.

"I met with the girls in the dining room and just reassured them that no matter what happened we would take care of them.

"I was having to make decisions on the spot, which is why I said myself and my children will move in here, we'll take care of you."

From nine to three, students spend their day attending lessons online, and at the end of the week they host a live assembly on Zoom from the school hall.

It was Tupaea's idea to do things a little differently during last Friday's assembly by getting students to organise a surprise flash mob for their friends watching online.

"So I started off assembly as I normally would and said that we had a special award to start assembly and that was going to be an award for an exceptional scholar from our Solway bubble.

"I said, 'the recipient is Miss Fiu' and so then we spotlighted in on her with the camera as she came up to receive the award and then we all broke out in a flash mob," she said.

Solway Girls College boarding supervisor Sela Emily Fiu-Poufa said while she missed her family and the comfort of her own bed, there was no other place she would rather be.

"It's different and I do miss home, but this is also home," she said.

"In the hostel we try to make it as homely as possible for them, a home away from home. It is a huge responsibility but it's really rewarding because you get to see the growth of these girls."

Fiu-Poufa has been busy helping out with activities such as movie nights, camp-fires, and treasure hunts.

She also stars in the school bubble's Jump Jam video, which they recently posted to their Facebook page.

The school is urging other boarding schools spending lockdown together to post a Jump Jam video of their own as a friendly challenge.

As the flash mobs and games nights continue, the arrival of Level Three has also given these Masterton students something to smile about.

Principal Janine Tupaea has promised them a feed of takeaways to celebrate.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs