On Monday, March 23, along with the rest of New Zealand, LAC House deans listened to the Prime Minister announce that Level 4 lockdown would begin on Thursday. Urgent arrangements were made for the domestic boarders to make it home before Lockdown was enforced.
In the days leading up to the announcement, LAC House had been preparing for the restrictions to come. The principal, Brendan van Oostveen, decided that LAC House would become an international bubble for the 26 international students. The bubble was needed as it was not practical to fly students home. If they did return to their home countries, It was unlikely that they would be allowed back to study in New Zealand in the near future. Airlines were already restricting flights and airport transfers through Australia for our PNG students. Even though the decision by the government to implement lockdown was the logical choice, it still required that boarding staff & volunteers from USA, Brazil, Philippines and NZ, would have to supervise and care for 26 teenagers on campus for at least 4 weeks. To their immense credit, without a second thought, they all agreed to commit to the bubble to care for the boarders.
In the two days before lockdown, domestic boarders quickly packed up their rooms, saying their farewells while the deans prepared the dorms for lockdown with last-minute shopping trips. The cafeteria was set up as the multipurpose living room for both dorms, with sofas and bean bags moved from the dorms, plus the kind loan of the large screen TVs from the Year 7&8 classrooms.
With Alert Level 4, school time was over and the dorms quickly set into an extended Easter holiday routine. To keep boarders busy, the volunteers arranged activities each day. Morning and afternoons were taken up with games & sports to Taekwondo and Sign language lessons and ‘Money Matters’ budgeting classes. With activities during the day, it was important to keep to the normal LAC House routine of Morning Watch and evening Soul Time each day. Boarders took turns to lead out in a short devotional each morning before breakfast, and the deans led out with evening worship each day.
For Saturday nights, special activities like outdoor movie night, gym games or capture the flag were enjoyed by all (especially with the interdorm rivalry added in!).
“Capture the Flag was my favourite event! It was so much fun to run around in the dark with everyone together”Eliud, Y12 from Papua New Guinea
Along with arranging weekday activities, it was important for LAC House to make Sabbath special. With local churches adjusting to life online, it was a real blessing to be able to worship together as a group.
LAC House started the Easter weekend by commemorating Passover with an Agape feast and a Communion service which included a service of humility (foot washing). The whole evening was a wonderful celebration of Christ’s victory on the cross and recognising His sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. For Easter Saturday, LAC House organised a live stream church service for Mosaic Community Church through Facebook. Using the school’s live streaming equipment, even making the service interactive with a Bible quiz through Kahoot!
The live stream was extra special as it was able to be viewed by the boarders family from across the Pacific. To continue connecting with the boarder’s families, a Facebook group was set up for LAC House to keep them updated by sharing photos and video clips of daily activities (photos also available on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lac_house/ ).
During normal Term time, one of the weekly highlights for boarders is the opportunity to visit town for supermarket essentials/treats or go window shopping with friends. This was clearly not an option during the lockdown, so the deans arranged to pick up orders. Each fortnight during the 8-week lockdown, over 3-5 hrs was spent at the supermarket to fill each boarder’s order. While the online orders and organising were time-consuming, the deans gladly did it to see the joy on the face of each boarder when they received their favourite treat.
While the routine of online classes dragged on, a special milestone was celebrated when the boarders organised a surprise birthday celebration for boarding director, Maria Henry. Throughout the lockdown, boys’ dorm had been practising a haka and it was heart-warming to witness them perform it in Mrs Henry’s honour on her 65th birthday. Girls’ dorm decorated the cafeteria and baked cakes in addition to presenting a birthday message video from the boarders on and off-campus. A truly special evening.
“I really enjoyed the haka. It was my first time and we practised a lot together”Achill, Y9 from Vanuatu
“It was emotional seeing the boys do the haka for Mrs Henry. They showed her so much respect”Tywana, Y13 from Papua New Guinea
Once the school holidays were over and online classes began, LAC House was privileged to have access to classrooms and the school library to create focused study spaces. With each boarder having access to their own laptop/Chromebook, junior and senior students were separated into areas for two deans to supervise their timetabled classes. While online learning was essential, it was important to start the day with devotion. The LAC Chaplain, Mr Amoah, provided the boarders with pre-recorded Bible studies at the start of some days along with devotionals with their supervisors the rest of the time.
For 5 weeks, the online classes continued and the deans were able to follow up boarders’ classwork through regular communication with their teachers and also access to their online portals. While online learning is not a substitute for classroom learning, it was impressive to see how quickly the boarders were able to adapt to the circumstances and take charge of their own learning.
“It was hard to not get distracted when studying online, so I had to learn to stay focused’Apia, Y13 from Vanuatu
With New Zealand now at Alert Level 2, LAC House took the opportunity to mark the occasion with the first trip off campus to Foxton beach. A wonderful Sabbath afternoon to thank the Lord for His care and creation. Now LAC House has welcomed almost all of our domestic boarders back, we have even more to praise God for!
“I really enjoyed the outdoor movie but the whole time was special for all international students to bond together. It was great to get to know the deans more.”Sandra, Y13 from Papua New Guinea
It has been tremendous to see that by God’s grace, LAC House became a refuge for the boarders and staff, especially when many people are struggling with hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We would like to thank Mosaic Church Mission4Men for their care packages and also pay tribute to Mrs Erni Chen and her catering team for being our essential food service, and allowing the rest of LAC House to focus on daily routines and activities throughout the 8-week lockdown.
Eifion Paul, LAC House Admin.
I have said many times to friends and family here and in the States that if I had to be locked down, this was the best of all of the options that I would have had. I was on a beautiful campus where I had 26 great students and 6 staff to hang out with and enjoy the interaction. If I was home, I would have had one person to be with for weeks and months. I had a gym, weight room, beautiful grounds, and a full cafeteria to serve my needs throughout lockdown. In addition, I was able to teach and share with the students on topics like God, relationships, finance, tennis and how to study the Bible, which I would not have had time for or thought of doing under normal circumstances. We had great Sabbath School lessons and church services together. I was able to get to know the young ladies and even some of the young men better with the smaller groups and develop impactful relationships. Of course, it was exhausting at some point since we didn’t get the holiday that was previously scheduled, but when we did get a break for a week, I was missing the students within a few days. I will never say that I loved the restrictions of having to remain on campus for almost 2 months, but I will say that I am grateful for the circumstances in which I was able to spend this time. Many people were alone in their bubble and that would have been pretty challenging so I praise God that I was able to be here with my students and colleagues at LAC doing something meaningful.Lorraine Edwards, Assistant Girls’ Dean, USA