Heather Langley thinks Georgia is ‘pure gold’.
For her part, Georgia, known as ‘Fish’ to some college mates, is just happy to be helping someone.
“Like at school,” she says, “if you can show someone how to do an equation for example, it makes them happy and in turn makes you happy.”
But pure gold? Why is 17-year-old Aquinas College senior Georgia Jones held in 24-karat regard by Heather Langley, deputy principal of Merivale Primary School?
It’s because Georgia offered “service” to the school.
“Service?” says Heather. “She has gone above and beyond service for a young lass.”
In living memory, Merivale School hasn’t had a swimming team. “At least not to our knowledge,” says Heather.
The school lost its pool - budgets and maintenance saw to that. “Generally we don’t send our kids to inter-school swimming because we only have a two-week block of swimming at the end of the year where they learn survival techniques,” says Heather. “There’s no swim coaching, so it’s hard to identify any potential.”
Step up Georgia Jones – swim enthusiast since the age five, water polo player and coach.
“Swimming is my thing,” she says. “I am in my element when I am in the water.” As a result of her passion, the first Merivale Primary School swim team – possibly ever – headed for the starting blocks at the southern cluster inter-school swimming sports this week. Karoria, Ramari, Jahkayla, Dominic, Manaia, Jorjah, Arom and Cruz to be exact, all proud and competitive and all flying the school flag.
“It doesn’t matter if they don’t place or they don’t win,” says Heather, “because they have gone where we have never gone before. Our focus was to get a squad to the point where they would confidently attend the swim meeting and give it a go.”
It’s all very satisfying according to coach Georgia. “I made a promise to those kids, to the school and to the parents.” And this week, she fulfilled that promise.
But how did we get here. How did Georgia, the ‘Fish’, get the Merivale swim team back in the water?
We have to back up a couple of months, when Georgia’s mother suggested she got a job. Georgia’s mind immediately turned to swimming. Perhaps coaching was the answer. Maybe she could offer a service and do something nice for someone for nothing. “I love teaching water polo, so I knew I would love teaching swimming,” she says.
And if Georgia was going to teach kids, why not teach kids who need a hand up?
She offered her services – several weeks of swim training for a bunch of Merivale Primary School kids and all gratis, of course. The Liz van Welie Swim School at Pyes Pa gladly set aside a corner of the pool, again free of charge.
“When I explained our plan to Heather, she was so excited,” explains Georgia. “I was a bit overwhelmed, because I had no idea how much this would mean to her.” But when she thought about it, it made sense.
“She is the deputy principal, and has a real connection with the kids. For her to see something so good happening for her kids obviously made her super excited. It made me excited as well.”
For the next seven weeks, at 8am on Monday and Wednesday mornings before school, the team was vanned to the pool.
“It was a way of telling our students that we recognise their potential at swimming and we would like to explore that potential further,” says Heather.
Georgia stuck at it. She coached them, coerced them, encouraged them, and it paid off.
“This swimming thing was a little gift,” explains Georgia. But it turned out it was a gift for Georgia as well. “The kids would arrive at the pool in the morning and say ‘hi Georgia’ or ‘hi Whaea’, which a very respectful ‘hi Aunty’. That’s special.”
Some could swim well, while some could barely swim at all, but they had potential. In the beginning they were a little shy, suspicious and wary. “But I can confidently say that these kids, who hadn’t had any lessons or opportunities, can all swim pretty well now,” says Georgia.
The job, however, is not complete. She has a plan for terms two and three to coach kids at the other end of the spectrum - the kids who can’t swim at all and are afraid to get into the pool.
She has a story - one at her own expense - that might reassure them. “When I first climbed into a pool at five or six, I wore a nose peg because I didn’t want water going up my nose.
“I was told to take it off. Then the water went up my nose and I cried.” Some 11 years later she is known as ‘the fish’ – a water polo coach and swimming coach.
‘Service’ started long before the Merivale kids even got their toes wet. Georgia sacrificed a week of her school holidays attending a qualification course to be a coach, just so she could do her service.
“The kids had the potential and Georgia has unleashed that potential,” says Heather. “It’s absolutely fantastic.” That’s what makes Georgia “pure gold”.