Monkey business at school while Jones away

A trusted friend ... Jones the Monkey with the Terrace School's room three pupils in Alexandra....
A trusted friend ... Jones the Monkey with the Terrace School's room three pupils in Alexandra. Photo by Leith Huffadine.
There's a monkey loose in The Terrace School's room 3 but no-one is trying to catch him.

Jones the monkey is a soft toy and has been at the Alexandra school since the beginning of the term.

He has ventured to Mt Cook, ridden buses and even met Olympic Games gold medallist Hamish Bond, but his reason for being there is not all monkey business.

Jones is a stand-in.

He is there in the place of Jones Halstead Bagrie, a pupil at the school who is in Christchurch Hospital, battling a rare form of cancer.

Jones (10) was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma in December last year and was admitted to Christchurch Hospital later that month, where he remains for chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

His mother, Sue Halstead, said he was also born with a partial deletion of chromosome 13, which was so rare nobody knew what it meant for him.

Doctors had given him a 50% chance of a full recovery from the cancer.

He had surgery to remove a cancerous tumour, but now faced chemotherapy to ''mop up'' traces of the remaining cancer.

He was ''absolutely'' fighting it, but it had made him a ''99-year-old version of himself'', she said.

Jones' teacher, Matt Murphy said the idea for the substitute came from fellow teacher Ann Conder.

''It's been great. The biggest thing is there's a connection with Jones. When we skyped Jones, he finds it really neat that he is still in class as a wee monkey.''

Pupils from his class said having Jones the monkey around helped when they missed Jones himself.

They wanted to make sure he was always in the class with them.

The monkey even had a soft toy friend, a koala called Blake.

Other escapades of Jones the monkey had included fishing and riding an ''iceberg'' in the Hooker Lake near Mt Cook while the class was at camp.

Jones always asked to see his monkey self when skyping his classmates, they said.

Ms Halstead said the school, his former school, Alexandra Primary, and the whole community had got behind Jones.

Members of the community had organised a concert this Sunday to raise funds for her; someone had established an online fundraising page; others had set up a quiz night and Terrace school pupils were conducting a coin drive.

''I have a lot of people to thank.''

The money would help as she had to close her business to move to Christchurch with her daughter Briar (8) to support Jones, and had to consider the cost of preparing her home as his immune system had been compromised.

He was expected to be able to return home about June.

Ms Halstead hoped doctors would allow Jones a special trip to the fundraising concert at Alexandra's former swimming pool site on Sunday from noon.

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