May 23rd, 2021The little school that could
FOR 163 years, Newlyn Primary School has seen many changes in its time.
With the original brick building, commemorative trees and an original 1930s piano, the threat of closure has loomed over the years as numbers declined and funding dried up.
But the little school just keeps on going and if the current school community is anything to go by, Newlyn Primary will still be around in another 163 years.
When Samantha Vella took on the role as principal three years ago, there were just six children enrolled. The same number of children Ms Vella and her partner raise between them.
Despite coming from a Melbourne school with 2000 students, Ms Vella was up for the challenge and armed with a determination to keep the little school going and with big ideas on a not-so-big budget, Ms Vella, the dedicated parents and their tenacious will to grow the school paid off.
Home to 18 kids, a goat, sheep, a rabbit, guinea pigs and chooks, the school is a community within a community, with a heartbeat that just won’t stop beating.
“There is a wonderful sense of pride and community here. Along with (fellow teacher) Carla Baker the parents are all so active and supportive and play such a major part in making sure we thrive,” Ms Vella said.
“We have kids that are fourth generation and that is such motivation to build the school for future generations. We started by building our numeracy and literature programs and we had the support of the tight-knit community. Kids come from all over the shire to be part of the unique environment we have here.”
That sense of community was evident when a dad rescued a second-hand kitchen in perfect condition and thanks to parents, and electricians and plumbers donating their time, it was installed with a new oven and cooktop.
Last Thursday vegetable soup two ways was on the menu. Half of the kids were busy preparing the veggies they grew in patches on the grounds, while the others collected parsley for the garnish. At the same time, they were happy to show off all the other veggies growing, including massive zucchinis and a selection of tomatoes, still going strong despite a tough year for the fruit.
While all state schools must manage maintenance with tight budgets, at Newlyn Primary School, the entire community gets involved.
“We have mums and dads that work with us to keep the grounds mowed and the gardens looking beautiful. Parents and their kids proudly look after the grounds and animals over the holidays and there is really no need to spend money on maintenance as between us all it gets done. There is such a sense of pride here that it really does feel like a school family.”
Even when it was time for one of the littlies to check her insulin level, it was a group effort borne out of care and support.
Ms Vella said Mrs Baker was like a rock star to the kids and together they made a formidable duo.
“She sings, dances, plays the piano (which is slightly out of tune but no-one’s complaining) speaks Japanese and makes amazing Japanese food with the kids. We will always make any excuse to cook and eat because we all love it,” she said.
Ms Vella also has a knack of turning any conversation into learning. During food preparation which was the same time as a fruit and veggie break, the process of cutting up oranges for the kids turned into an impromptu maths lesson.
The kids were happy to show off their artwork to commemorate Anzac Day and their work celebrating our indigenous heritage. Prep Sophie was almost like a little mascot given she is the fourth generation to attend.
Ms Vella together with the rest of the school community have their own dreams and visions for the school.
“I’d love to plant an indigenous garden along the front area, and we have been lucky enough to have a flagpole and flag donated so it would really be a wonderful addition. We’d like to expand the vegetable patch along the entire fence line and of course there are always things we would like to get done inside.”
Like the life-sized cow that greets visitors in the foyer. Named Miss Moolyn from Newlyn, the plan is to have the current kids repaint the old girl.
“It all takes time but for now I feel like I’m the luckiest principal that actually gets to be part of the kids’ everyday learning and not stuck behind a desk. We are a strong school community because of the incredible parents, their children and a wider community that simply cares to make it all possible.”
Main photo, from left, Hamish, Mrs Baker, Aiden, Tristan, Toya, Rupert, Stan, Grace, Dominic, Danielle, Archie, Aidan, Mackenzie, Emma, Bree, Ms Vella and Sophie
Words & images: Narelle Groenhout | Main image: Kyle Barnes