After 34 years of dedication, Bowraville Central School’s now ex-deputy principal Kerri Argent sets sail for Antarctica to ‘get on with some living’.
Principal Malcolm McFarlane commended her compassion and leadership while students and staff said their fond farewells to the Bowra stalwart on the last day of term two.
The agricultural science and P.E. teacher’s decision to enter pedagogy boiled down to some simple maths: Her love of kids and animals plus enthusiasm for agriculture and science multiplied by her desire to do something of value.
She had a baptism of fire when she kicked her career off in Riverstone in 1978, with almost a third of students at the time unable to speak English.
But Kerri said agricultural science was the perfect medium to transcend this language barrier.
“Ag science is hands-on and people learn by doing, not by listening. We only take in about 10 per cent of what we hear, but 80 per cent of what we do,” Kerri said.
“And kids just love animals.”
She planted herself in Bowraville in 1984 and fell in love with the school which was to become her home for the next ‘34 and a bit’ years.
The school had recently acquired a lease on a farm, through the efforts of science teacher Bob Ellis, and was looking for another agricultural science teacher to kickstart the new program at the school.
Kerri praises Bob as her mentor, and together they pioneered a farm science syllabus which quickly became one of the most popular subjects at the school.
“The kids loved ag. science and I loved teaching it more because of that,” Kerri said.
Kerri busied herself pursuing grants to build on the agricultural centre the two were creating with the help of some equally dedicated assistants and local families.
Among her impressive list of legacy items to the department and the school are a piggery, an outdoor classroom, cattle yards, an orchard, and a minibus and bus shed to show animals at fairs.
She helped coordinate a river bank reestablishment and revegetation program through the guidance of Landcare after the banks were washed away in floods.
She also initiated a stream watch program to educate students on water health management after a grant was obtained to buy a set of canoes for the school.
“We’d paddle from Bowra down to Devil’s elbow, sometimes as far as Macksville, taking water and vegetation samples, and teaching kids about the health of the river,” she said.
As an avid horserider, one of her fondest initiatives at the school was a lunchtime pony club.
“I think the biggest advantage of Bowraville is that teachers have always been encouraged to follow their own direction. And that’s what shines through,” Kerri said.
“If you love doing something then you teach it really well. And my interest was horseriding.
The club attracted up to 25 riders at a time and branched off as it gained popularity into camps and trail rides.
“The kids would all ride in in the morning, take the saddles off and leave them piled at the back of the science room.
“And Lorraine Smith would bring a truck full of horses for kids who didn’t have horses to use.
“We had a lot of fun, but then that was Bowraville school and most other schools would not have entertained a teacher who wanted to do something like that.”
Kerri, full of colourful anecdotes about her time spent in Bowra, recalled the time she taught the son of chicken breeders who was horribly allergic to chickens.
“He couldn’t even touch their eggs,” Kerri said.
She laughed while recounting one particular year she took a group of netballers to the school knockout competition in Armidale.
“All of a sudden, out of the sky this rice-type snow started falling on us. All the local teams kept playing, but the Wooloongong, Nimbin and Bowraville teams just stopped dead in their tracks,” Kerri said.
“We were in tears of laughter watching our girls standing stock still in shock. They all thought rice was coming down on them.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, and Kerri said the toughest part of the job was tackling the lack of social support networks available to Bowraville, in particular, infrastructure for after-school activities.
“While there were a lot of teachers who had kids going to the school we would run a lot of those activities,” Kerri said.
“30 years ago, half of the staff lived in the town and their children went there as well.
“Meat co was operating and it had 600 staff, so our school had double the numbers it does now.
“Back then there was always one parent not working and available to run things like after school programs.
“There’s only 250 kids at the school now, and they belong to single-parent or transient families, and most people are time-poor.
“And the staff is older now. Younger teachers love our school, but the problem is you get so many teachers that love Bowra so much that they stay long-term.”
Kerri is keen to pass the reigns over to a younger staff after nearly four decades of worrying about other people’s children.
“But I will miss Bowraville. The staff and students are family to me. It’s been a fantastic career, and I’ve loved it,” Kerri said.
“I’ve always said and you can quote me on this, ‘Bowraville Central School is the private school without the fees’.”