School family celebrates half century

Airy Hill .The whole school cheer.Picture Richard Ponter 132945a
Airy Hill .The whole school cheer.Picture Richard Ponter 132945a
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Fifty years ago this month Whitby’s Airy Hill Community Primary School opened its doors for the first time to the town’s pupils.

Now half a century on, the school - under the headship of Jim Lidgley who has been at the helm for six years - continues to thrive as it aims to fulfil its own motto ‘A Happy, Hardworking and High Achieving School’.

Airy Hill school feature. Kids enjoy.Picture Richard Ponter 132945b

Airy Hill school feature. Kids enjoy.Picture Richard Ponter 132945b

To celebrate its anniversary, staff are hoping to stage a 60s- themed day which is set for October 4 this year.

To tie in with the occasion, the school’s 211 pupils will be doing a mini project on the anniversary while past pupils, parents and teachers are being invited to join in the celebrations too. They are being invited to send old pictures from their time at the school through the decades.

It is hoped the special day will culminate in a 60s themed disco in the evening which everyone involved with the school will be invited to attend.

Fifty years ago, Airy Hill Community Primary School would have been a very different place to what it is today.

Airy Hill school feature.Head Jim Lidgely Picture Richard Ponter 132945c

Airy Hill school feature.Head Jim Lidgely Picture Richard Ponter 132945c

Jim (49), who took over his role from former head Tom Hardy, who had been at the school for 23 years, said: “Teaching used to be very formal, it was more teacher-led and children used to copy large chunks off the board.

“When I got here, there were still blackboards and chalk.

“It’s now all whiteboards. We really are an IT rich learning environment.”

In the 1960s, schools were run on a mixture of fear and punishment if children did anything wrong - the total opposite to Airy Hill today.

Airy Hill school feature.Enjoying IT lessons.Picture Richard Ponter 132945d

Airy Hill school feature.Enjoying IT lessons.Picture Richard Ponter 132945d

“Nowadays children take responsibility for their own behaviour and they behave because they want to,” said Jim.

“The children here are very, very well behaved which was noted by Ofsted during their last inspection and that’s because the children are engaged in their learning.

“One of the comments people always say when they visit the school is how friendly and open all the people here are.

“All the teachers and children make everyone feel welcome. It’s a real family atmosphere.”

Airy Hill school feature. Fun in the playground.Picture Richard Ponter 132945e

Airy Hill school feature. Fun in the playground.Picture Richard Ponter 132945e

The school council and eco council are popular with youngsters who can join aged six and can have a real say in the running of the school.

Lessons are certainly very different from what they would have been like 50 years ago and many are extremely imaginative with some taking place out of the classroom.

Jim said: “The word happy is the first word in our school motto for a reason. We really do focus on the children enjoying their time here.

“Last week, I took Year Six mackerel fishing on a charter boat out of the harbour. We had a fantastic day. We caught about 150 fish in about an hour in the afternoon. They learnt to gut them and fillet them and we barbecued some of them and ate them. It’s making learning real - catch it, kill it and eat it.

“We personalise their education as much as possible. We take an interest in every single child and find out what they are interested in and develop that.”

In school, pupils also learn French with the aid of a specialist teacher from the age of seven while earlier this month, the whole school went to the beach for an afternoon of learning with the oldest children in the school looking after the youngest. Years five and six have enjoyed an overnight camping trip in the school grounds, complete with a sing-song around a campfire and toasted marshmallows .

Airy Hill school feature.Picture Richard Ponter 132945f

Airy Hill school feature.Picture Richard Ponter 132945f

One tradition the school has held onto since its inception is its annual awards ceremony. One of the awards - The Burton progress award for Year Six girl and boy has shields donated by the Burton sisters - a family of seven Whitby girls who all went through the school.

Past pupils continue to support Airy Hill. One has donated £25,000 towards the cost of a new dance studio which will also be used by members of the Benson Stage Academy who use the school for lessons - a further £25,000 will need to be raised.

And another, has given more than £8,000 which has been spent on 32 new laptops.

The school is well used out of school hours and has its own breakfast club which is also sed by pupils from St Hilda’s, a host of after school clubs as well a venue for Whitby’s Shotokan Karate Club.

Jim was determined to make the school a hub in the community and it is open from 8am until 9pm six days a week.

A new toilet block is currently being built this summer for the juniors to replace the old one which has been there since 1963.

In February this year, the school underwent a difficult time with the shock death of caretaker Paul Gale .

Jim said: “Through adversity, that showed one of the real strengths of the school. Everyone pulled together and supported each other and Paul’s family at that time. ”

For its September reception intake, the school is oversubscribed for September - a testament to its popularity.

“I feel very proud and enjoy the job enormously despite all the challenges the Government throw at us,” added Jim. “Working with children is fantastic - it keeps you young.”