Some teachers are young at heart, and Celia Risbridger is surely one of them. She jumped off the Kopua footbridge into the estuary last year to celebrate her 60th birthday – a milestone year that also marked for her two decades of teaching.
Celia was a mature student at Waikato University back in the early ’90s, she explains, and only started teaching at the age of 40 when her own two children were at school. “I’m still going strong,” she says, adamant she’s not stale despite spending all those 20 years at Raglan Area School where her primary teaching career began.
But when the Chronicle quizzes Celia on her favourite age level in the junior school – where she’s taught new entrants through to year five children – she’s stumped.
“I love it all,” she enthuses. “Every time I change to a new level or take on more responsibility I discover new challenges and things to learn.”
Pressed, Celia admits though to a special affinity for the little ones, describing it as a real privilege to get the five-year-olds started at school.
She’s heard them say, when asked about their big start, that they’re going to Whaea Celia’s school. “I’m world famous in Raglan,” she laughs.
Her passions in teaching include literacy, mathematics, science and environmental education.
For the past 10 years Celia’s also been assistant principal in the junior school, a role she’s relished but has relinquished for 2015 as other responsibilities have arisen. Working with groups of students as an accelerated maths support teacher across years three to eight now takes up most of her time, and means she’s not actually running a class of her own.
“I had to step down a bit this year,” she confides. That’s not only because she has a second paper of post-graduate study on the go, but also because husband Ken needs her support too while recovering at home in John Street from health problems which saw him hospitalised for much of the second half of 2014.
The way Celia sees it, he supported her as house-husband while she was training to be a teacher, and now it’s her turn to take over the TLC in their 34-year marriage.
The school administration’s been very supportive of her personal circumstances, Celia adds, describing it as a real sense of manaakitanga or kindness which she’s convinced is a reflection of the wider Raglan community.
It’s a community into which Celia was born, at the then maternity hospital in Manukau Road. She remembers growing up at 12 Stewart Street, directly across the road from Raglan’s first school which is now the town’s arts centre and hub of the popular monthly Creative Market.
Celia did her first two years in junior school, or Primers as it was called back then, there at the Old School before transferring – like all the other children of her era – to Standard One at what was known as the “big” school in Norrie Avenue. Her three siblings did the same, and her own now grown-up children, Chris and Heidi, also followed suit and were Raglan-educated.
Celia (nee Bath) recently donated the Bath-Risbridger Cup – for ‘excellence in attitude to learning in the senior primary area’ – to mark her family’s ongoing connection with the school over the years.
She’s also put a lot of her energies into swimming and badminton clubs and PTA work, and is particularly proud of the fundraising efforts during her many years as PTA chairperson that saw the building of the junior school’s two expansive playgrounds through to completion.
The Bath-Risbridger cup continues a tradition, following on from one donated much earlier by her family and another local family to the school for the top honour of dux. It’s the Bath-Williams Cup and named after Celia’s eldest sister Gwynneth Bath, who was the area school’s first dux, and Elizabeth Williams who was its second, she explains.
Celia loves Raglan, although admits that as a teenager growing up in town during the late ‘60s and early ’70s she couldn’t wait to get away and see the world. After two years of psychiatric nursing her OE took her to Fiji, Australia, England and Germany – where she did everything from bar work and hospitality to telephone-selling – before returning in ’87 with her husband and two young children, and then trained as a teacher.
She regards herself as “fortunate” to have got that first appointment as a teacher right here in her home town, and has been able to give back to the community that raised her. “It’s a great community,” she enthuses. “It’s where I belong.”