When you enter the gates of the Matric Academy of Excellence it is apparent that there is something different about this school on the outskirts of Zwide township, Port Elizabeth.
The newly planted garden, neat lawn, clean environment and air of expectancy as students greet each other with “On top of the world, choose life level seven” all make you wonder what is happening there.
Schools usually focus most on getting good results but while academic improvement is one of the key goals of the Matric Academy of Excellence, its main aims are to enable students to find their self-worth, realise how valuable they are in Christ, and fulfil their God-given potential, says the principal, Mart Janse van Vuuren.
Apparently the school’s model is working. Van Vuuren says she is proud of their 2015 academic results. In a year in which matric results in South Africa and the Eastern Cape declined significantly, the Matric Academy of Excellence achieved an overall improvement of 10 to 15%, crowned by a 28% improvement in physical science and mathematics results.
“We are thankful to have Mr Toy van Vuuren [science and maths teacher] on our staff and we are so grateful for his excellent and dedicated work. He is one of a kind,” said the principal who attributes much of the school’s success to having fully qualified, experienced and dedicated Christian teachers who are passionate about educating young people to become first class citizens with high moral values and integrity based on the school’s seven foundational pillars: integrity, honesty, diligence, humility, discipline, love and caring, and respect. Each of the school’s classrooms in named after one of the foundational pillars.
Van Vuuren says that a daily student development class is an integral part of the school’s curriculum.
Biblical truths and principles
“This period is of utmost importance and nothing will interfere with these classes. God directed us to teach biblical truths and principles. We look at the total development of a person. But accepting Christ as their Saviour remains their choice,” she says.
Students who choose to accept Christ are give a bible and taught how to read and meditate on it.
“Many students however face difficulties and we assist them during our counselling programme. One of our Educators, Mrs Patricia van Niekerk is a qualified Famsa counsellor and helps us a lot. We are ever so thankful to have her as part of our unique staff.”
The Matric Academy of Excellence caters for students who want to improve their Grade 12 results in certain subjects, for those need to rewrite certain subjects in order to obtain a Grade 12 NSC certificate, and others who are under the previous syllabus (ASC) who study from June and write examinations in June the next year in order to obtain a matric certificate.
Most of the students are local and from a disadvantaged background. Some come from as far away as Polokwane and Cape Town, and a number are from top schools in Port Elizabeth.
“It can only be the Holy Spirit who sends them here. How else would they know about the school when they live so far away?” Van Vuuren says.
The academy opened in 2011 with clear instructions from God. It uses classrooms from the Sakhisizwe Senior Secondary School in Zwide, which it upgraded at its own cost.
Academic subjects are presented from Monday to Thursday and on Fridays all students participate in study groups which play an important part in the success of the school. Top study group performers of the month are appointed as group leaders.
“It is so wonderful to see how they develop individually. The shy one’s gain more confidence and start to develop and even become the next leader of the group. Students are very keen to become leaders. Students are happy in this school. You hear lots of laughing and see lots of smiles,” says Van Vuuren.
A number of students from study groups are chosen as guest speakers at an annual year end function.
“We normally have 10 speakers, but at the end of 2015 there were 23 speakers sharing amazing testimonies,” says van Vuuren, adding that it is all part of student development.
The atmosphere at the school is relaxed and caring but strict discipline applies.
Changed lives — and habits
“We not only want to change lives, but work to change habits as well,” says Van Vuuren.
“We teach students when you do something wrong the first time it is a mistake. The second time it is a choice, but the third time it becomes a habit.”
Students interviewed by Gateway News about their experience at the school acknowledged that they have changed their behaviour, and are not lazy any more, and study hard. But they say it is the change that God has made in their lives that has had the biggest impact.
When asked how they are, students reply brightly and without hesitation: “On top of the world; choose life level seven [referring to excellence]” — a response taught to them by Van Vuuren.
New projects and developments are always on the school’s radar, to meet the students’ development needs and their unique circumstances. A chess club for maths students has proved popular. The school also has a design for movable computer tables for laptops which it hopes to introduce in the near future.
An add –a-bathroom-to –your –house campaign is an ongoing project, though a lack of running water at some homes makes this impossible.
“This is a basic need with which we try to uplift students’ lives” says Van Vuuren. “But when they live in a shack, they are not permitted to have a water connection and walk long distances to get water in a bucket”.
The school recently started a grocery cupboard for needy students.
“Sometimes students attend classes without having eaten for days. During the day we now have bread and peanut butter available so they can make themselves sandwiches. Because we teach principles such as honesty and integrity, only those who are really in need will make use of it,” says Van Vuuren.
She says the school needs donations of groceries for those who have no food at home. About a third of the students do not have parents and either live with grandparents or alone, with limited or no income. These students also need sponsors for their school fees. The school hopes to find Christian businessmen or individuals to sponsor a needy student for a year.Every sponsored student signs a mutual agreement which requires specific obligations to be honoured. These include academic performance, class attendance and others.
“We are so blessed with amazing teachers from different walks of life, who are dedicated and called to do God’s work,” says Mrs. van Vuuren. We are also so blessed with the handpicked students that are part of the academy this year. We give God all the glory.”
More information about the Matric Academy of Excellence is available on the website http/matricacademy.weebly.com or on its Facebook page, Matric Academy. Information on sponsorships or grocery donations can be obtained from Mart van Vuuren at email@example.com or tel. 083 922 3234.