Principal Louisa Barham says involving the community in decision making and communicating in an open and transparent way helped manage the anxiety experienced within the community as a result of Covid-19.
In the Whaingaroa/Raglan community, people not only live, work and learn together, but they rely on each other. Therefore, when the pandemic took hold, the community rallied together with a collective response, with Raglan Area School playing a central role.
Raglan is a diverse community with people who hold strong views and are not afraid to share them. Being the only school in Raglan, principal Louisa Barham understands the value of working together and being well connected to the community “as everyone is connected here… I just love that.”
Prior to the pandemic, vaccinations for school children had already been a contentious topic and required Louisa and her Board to tread with care in responding to genuine whānau concerns. Messaging had to be overt, informative and communicated with opportunities through hui, for whānau to ask questions, comment and share their views. This approach worked well and ensured community voice was considered.
In the lead-up to the first lockdown in 2020, Louisa says, “There was a lot of fear in the community and many felt that a community approach would be beneficial, with a number of organisations and community members doing a lot of thinking about the unprecedented challenges in front of us that were happening so quickly. I knew we needed to find time to talk with each other and I wanted to get the community leaders together.”
In close partnership with the Board presiding member Lisa Thomson, the Whaingaroa Response group was formed with involvement from iwi, community leaders, representatives from key organisations (e.g. police and health authorities), the local business chamber and anyone else who had the influence within the community. The purpose of the group was to make sense of the current situation, interpret the available information, and then decide on an appropriate response and coordinate the tasks to be actioned.
One of the outcomes of initial hui was that at very short notice the school was used as a community testing station and later, a vaccination centre. School staff and community volunteers acted as ambassadors and were visible and available when cars arrived at the centre. Lisa says, “that having friendly and trustworthy faces to welcome
people made a real difference”. They would have conversations with people in their cars and if they were still unsure, the volunteers could refer them to local health professionals who were also helping. To have 1500+ members of their community vaccinated in a very short period of time was an impressive achievement.
Louisa and Lisa felt that the best way to deal with the ongoing anxiety and fear within their school community was to approach it in the open and transparent way that they would typically engage with whānau. “All we had to do is facilitate and listen.” By way of hui and associated emails, the health authority messages were very clearly communicated, while at the same time there were opportunities for whānau to seek further clarification, ask questions, and share opposing views. They believe that allowing whānau to have equal time meant that people’s options were kept open, their choices were respected and they felt valued as members of the school community.
Louisa is grateful for the support that the community provided with the distribution of digital devices and improving internet accessibility. She is also proud of the work her staff have achieved but also shares that “we had some really difficult moments here”, especially when they had to comply with the vaccination mandate. “Good employees and good friendships were impacted.”
Raglan Area School, and particularly Louisa and Lisa, have clearly been at the centre of the successful response to Covid-19 within the community. A consequence of their passion for the community, has been that community groups have been able to further align their goals, working together with negotiated and targeted actions and being authentically connected.
Louisa says, “Our community groups have committed engagers, people who genuinely care and who want to make a real difference for our community.”
About the school
Te Kura a Rohe o Whaingaroa - Raglan Area School
Y0-13 Co-educational State Area School