Extending education that develops both students and society
An inspiring youth development initiative is being played out at the Uniting Reformed Church in Bloemendal, Port Elizabeth, where the Church is performing a pioneering role in assisting learners to not only improve their school results through a “Winter School” project that has become affectionately known by students as “Skool by die Huis”, but to grow spiritually and socially.
The initiative, which is now in its fourth year, started as a way to “get the church out on the streets”, as founding elder Ben Jacobs envisioned it.
This week a chilly Monday morning saw the start of “Skool by die Huis 2015” when 60 excited learners gathered at 8am to ensure that their holidays would be spent furthering their objectives of graduating from school with good results.
Last year the group grew from 50 to 75, so the expectation is that the numbers will rise as the winter school programme continues. Twelve volunteer tutors, mainly students from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), also showed up eager to participate in the learning activities of the week by extending their knowledge and advice.
Photocopied exam papers, a timetable, a kitchen full of supplies and the organising committee members were all present to get the educational ball rolling.
Driver of the “Skool by die Huis” project is Dr Veonna Goliath, a lecturer in social work at NMMU, who is also a Clinical Psychologist.
Dr Goliath, who grew up in Salt Lake, a suburb in the northern areas of Port Elizabeth, has a deep commitment to the young people of the community combined with a thorough knowledge and understanding of the experience of growing up in the area.
She has a vision of young people developing through education and utilises every possible opportunity to broaden the scope of the project.
Goliath says one of the most enjoyable aspects of the project is the positive atmosphere in which it operates.
She believes the encouraging environment is due to everybody involved, from students to tutors and those who have contributed funds and materials, participating voluntarily and with a deep desire to contribute to educational improvement that will have an impact not only on the students, but on their local environment and on South Africa as well.
One of Goliath’s aims is to make education enjoyable for the students and to ensure that learning takes place in the broader context of the student’s relationship with God, their fellow Church members, neighbours and society.
The “Skool by die Huis” project aims not only to develop academic know-how, but a sense of responsibility and discipline within a social and spiritual framework.
The winter school kicked off with a pre-school exercise for parents on Sunday, June 28, 2015 at the Church when the evening service was devoted to parents engaging in an interactive service and discussing the difference between discipline and punishment while the youth met in groups to discuss what they needed from their parents.
At the end of the service feedback was given during a joint meeting, which led to many new insights for both parents and students.
On Wednesday July 1, as part of a mid-term assessment students were asked what being on the project meant to them. In response one learner drew a butterfly on the blackboard.
Another said, “Please make ‘Skool by die Huis’ the school that we attend every day. If you can’t do that, please consider letting the school run for the whole three week holiday.”
Perhaps most revealing was a student answering: “We are learning how to discover ourselves.
“We are not just being taught how to pass mathematics, but also how to face life’s challenges.”
One of the social work tutors, Lindy Durr’s reflection was that: “I feel like I have had my own butterfly experience”.
On Friday, July 3 (the last day of the Winter School) learners are being taken to the South End Museum where they will have a tour of the institution and watch a documentary on the 1990 Northern Areas Uprising. The goal of this visit is to contest the internalised and marginalised stereotypes about the community, promote a more positive community identity, and strengthen social cohesion.
On Saturday, July 4, a parenting workshop will be presented to the fathers of the learners, and on Sunday, July 5, the evening service will be an “Appreciation Service” during which learners’ commitment to themselves is acknowledged through the awarding of certificates, witnessed by their parents.
During September 2015 participants will be able to join a workshop run by the “Alternative to Violence Project” on “non-violent communication”, as well as a workshop presented by the Oldenburg Drama Production students.
Keys to success
Dr Johann Mc Farlane, coordinator of the educational task team of Transformation Christian Network (TCN) says that elements that make this project exceptional are:
- Community involvement — many facts evidence this strength. The church council spontaneously pledged R3 000 when they were reminded that the winter school would be running again. Many individuals responded and offered help. In addition, many organizations joined in and have taken responsibility for various aspects of the programme. Enough donations were received to ensure the project is on a sound financial footing.
- A holistic approach – school subjects are taught during the first four days of the week by teachers and education students from NMMU, combined with life-skills sessions that are facilitated by social-work students from NMMU. These sessions are directed at developing a positive identity and promoting pro-social behaviour among the learners. In the week running up to the Winter School, Master’s students from the Department of Psychology at NMMU conducted a four hour workshop on career development to grade 11 learners.
- Reverend Hanzline Davids is the Minister of the Uniting Reformed Church and provides the vital leadership component with which to unite the congregation and wider community behind the project and become enthusiastic participants.
The Uniting Reformed Church in Bloemendal is setting an example for many other Churches to follow by empowering learners with knowledge and helping to overcome the crisis in education that limits not only the development of the youth, but our society as a whole, says McFarlane.