Fundraising effort keeps counsellor at primary school

Ready, set, go! Ōrewa North Primary students, front from left, Pheonix Meas, Thatcher Naude and Jack Devlin, kick-off a fun run that raised thousands for school counselling services.

Ōrewa North Primary – one of the area’s smallest with a roll of just 381 students – took on a massive challenge, successfully raising more than $35,000 to provide students and staff with free mental health services.

Over the last year, Ōrewa North Primary had a counsellor for one day a week, free of charge, while the counsellor completed their study placement. In July, the primary school extended this by a half a day.
To be eligible for Oranga Tamariki funding for a social worker, schools must be between decile one to three. Ōrewa North Primary is decile seven.

Principal Katherine Pascoe says having a counsellor led to improved student behaviour across the school.

“The amount of primary-age children with anxiety has grown rapidly in the last five years,” she says. “If kids are in ‘fight or flight’ mode, they aren’t learning, because their energy is being used elsewhere. Kids learn when they are happy. I strongly believe that if we address these anxiety and friendship issues in their early years, it will set them up much better in the future.”

One of the reasons for the anxiety increase is children being more aware of the strains on their family, she says.

“The counsellor helps to teach them the things they don’t need to worry about, and give them the emotional support to just be kids.”

Desperate to have their part time counsellor stay on, the school planned its biggest ever fundraising effort, with a fun run at its heart.

A dad at the school suggested the idea, after hearing it was successful at another school.
It is the first time the school has held a fun run and event organiser and Ōrewa North Primary board member Andrea Fitness says the take-up was amazing.

“I think it comes down to two things: the reason we are raising the money, which resonated with people, and that it was online, which allowed us to reach out to more people and made donating easier,” she says.

With the assistance of school parent Dana Unkovich, a fundraising page was created, as well as individual fundraising pages for students. In the first weekend of the page being live, they received donations of $15,448 from around the world.

By the time the event itself took place on the school field on Thursday, September 19, more than $30,000 had already been raised.

To put the element of fun, and mental health at the heart of the run, the theme was “dress-up in what makes you happy”.

This saw students from all year groups sport bright and funky attire. Everyone took part in a warm up run by North Harbour Sport, which including jumping, stretching and plenty of shouting.

Individual runners then completed as many laps around the field as they could.

Despite the optional length of the run and the temptation of an ice block at the finish line, provided by volunteers, many students chose to keep running for the hour-long event.

Andrea says the final total raised of more than $35,000, is more than double what they usually make at their fundraisers.

After covering costs, including prizes and a small fee from the fundraising website, the school will have $30,000 available to fund the counsellor. This is enough to fund counselling services for up to two days a week.

The school held a special assembly on Friday September 20 to congratulate the students’ fundraising efforts. They gave out prizes that encouraged fitness and wellbeing, including balls and scooters.

“It was important that we celebrated all the kids’ fundraising efforts, not just the ones who raised the most,” Andrea says. “It’s all about getting stuck in for a common cause and caring for each other.”

Katherine says the school is thrilled with the response from the community, as well as the enthusiasm of the students themselves.

“The way our students ran with such enthusiasm to support each other teaches them kindness and empathy. We are so incredibly proud of them,” she says.

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