Spring has finally arrived. The pungently sweet smell of orange and lemon blossoms from the many plantations around us fills the air, the melancholy call of the Greyheaded Bush Shrike (aptly called the Spookvoël in Afrikaans) echoes through the empty buildings before the children arrive each morning and the bright yellow blossoms of the Sneezwood trees line the ‘highway’ up to Healdtown. I still can’t believe how good the road is – in fact, it is better than one of the main roads through Fort Beaufort which is littered with potholes and treacherous dongas.
It gives me great pleasure to report on the third term at Healdtown – reflecting on the successes helps me to gain some perspective and hope in amongst all the challenges. We have a photocopier at last!! This may seem like a small thing, but trying to get a lease agreement without audited financials is like trying to mow a rugby field with a pair of scissors. I’m still trying to fathom how we coped without such a machine for 6 months – it has made a really big difference in the day to day running of the office. In the first week of August we had four pupils and a teacher from HeronBridge College in Johannesburg visit Healdtown for a week. They taught classes, competed on the sports field and made themselves useful in a host of other ways. In particular they sorted out our library with all the new books that have been donated, classified them and set up systems so that it is now a fully functional library. Their grade eleven group back home collected and sent down a heap of stationary and also made it possible that our pupils can now get a really nice scientific calculator for just R20.
The Heron Bridge headmaster Mr David Klein also came down and we had discussions on cementing the relationship between our two schools. They have invited our grade 11 pupils to reciprocate the exchange and so we have six super-excited pupils and a teacher leaving for the city lights of Gauteng in a few days time. Since HeronBridge is a three-term school and we have four terms, the exchange works out beautifully for each group in their respective holidays. I look forward to hearing about their experiences. I have been in contact with a number of people who have shown an interest in getting involved in this exciting project of rebuilding Healdtown. Dr Sizwe Mabizela, the deputy vice chancellor of Rhodes University will be visiting our school early next term and is keen to set up a memorandum of understanding between the two institutions. We want to investigate various forms of collaboration and this promises to be a constructive relationship from which both parties will hopefully benefit.
Then I had the opportunity to show about 12 headmasters of the big traditional boys’ schools in South Africa around Healdtown one Friday afternoon. It was part of their annual conference programme. David Williams, who is the deputy editor of the Financial Mail, chairs this conference and having seen our school, he expressed a keen interest in getting involved in Healdtown. He will also be visiting us early next term for discussions. Alan Brews and Nicola Grootes from StratAlign have also been for a visit. They have been appointed by the Historic Schools Restoration Project to do a full feasibility study and to carefully map out a way forward for the next five or so years. Other visits were from Patrick Seager, the CSI manager at Plascon Paints and Andrew Summers from the Calabar Foundation in the US. Although not everyone who comes here automatically contributes, I must say I am heartened by the tremendous interest in Healdtown from so many different quarters and it gives me hope that this project will eventually come to fruition. It was just a throw away comment after a meeting I had with Anthony Ryan from the Ilima Trust and Trevor Webster, who’s father was on the staff at Healdtown in the 1930’s and who himself was a headmaster for many years. “Sitting at home in the Hogsback with nothing to do in your retirement must be so boring” says Ryan to Webster. “Why don’t you write a book on the History of Healdtown?” History and English being Trevor’s specialities, he didn’t need a second invitation and so the mammoth task has begun. Trevor has already been to see various people and has started collecting material. The rough outline for the book is already in place and I dare say that life will not be boring in the Webster house until June next year when we plan to have the book ready. (I have a suspicion, because of the type of person Trevor is, that life was never boring in the Hogsback in the first place, but Healdtown seems to have captured his imagination and I am grateful to him for taking on this task) Our feeding scheme which is being sponsored by Sanlam is in full swing and each pupil is now getting at least one proper meal each day. We have appointed Thabisa, a lady from one of the local villages, to cook the meals and she is doing a great job. The challenges of transporting the necessary ingredients and having bread delivered at 04h30 every morning have been successfully overcome and the necessary systems are now in place. We will have representatives from Sanlam visit us early next term and I look forward to welcoming them. This initiative has really made a huge difference in the life of the school. I needed to call in a pupil recently because he had bunked afternoon classes. When he told me that he went home because he was hungry, it somehow didn’t seem right to punish him. Fortunately that kind of scenario is over now. Kids, being kids, they will of course still attempt to bunk the odd afternoon class – they will just have to work harder now at finding a plausible excuse!
The Departments of Transport and Education have recently put together a programme in which all pupils that live further than a certain distance away from the school, receive bicycles. These bicycles belong to the school and are ‘rented’ out to the pupils – they have to maintain and look after them. We have some pupils who live really far away from the school and these bicycles make life just that little easier for them. The only problem is of course that however much you tell them to drive carefully, it falls on deaf ears. I have had quite a number of casualties already – the hills down from Lamyeni are very steep and have resulted in some hospital visits with bruised ankles and various other injuries. On the other hand – that is sometimes the only way a young 14 year old teen will learn. Pain seems to be a wonderful teacher at times! Although we have not been able to secure many sports fixtures, the pupils have enjoyed their practices and the exercise. One particular afternoon on which we were able to organise a fixture will stick in my memory. We head off to Lindani High School in town with the rain clouds of a cold front threatening to disrupt proceedings. “Shall we still go?” I ask Masibulele, our new coach who has just joined us as part of his practical to complete his studies. “Of course”, says he with that wonderful energetic disposition of the youth, and so we head down the hill. Well, the heavens opened soon after we got there and both the soccer field and netball court became mud holes that any warthog would have delighted to wallow in. The games continued and we won both the U15 and the U19 netball convincingly. In the football we were not so fortunate and felt the absence of our Matric players. I was proud of our pupils and the way they didn’t just throw in the towel because of a rain shower – at the close of the afternoon they did however look like some four year olds who have discovered the joys of playing in the mud and who are in urgent need of that ‘Omo magic’. Our drum majorettes were invited to perform at three functions in various places this term and did the school proud. They looked very smart in their uniforms and enjoyed the occasions. You may remember that in the previous report I spoke about the Kingswood College choir that came to visit us at the end of last term. At our opening assembly this term, I challenged the pupils and said that if they put together a choir and practised on a regular basis, I would organise a trip to Kingswood for them. Well, without the help of any teachers, about 18 of them got together and rehearsed regularly after school, filling the empty corridors with their music. Two girls, Vuyokazi and Vuyiseka took the lead and put together a really wonderful repertoire. I was in contact with Mr Philip Burnett, the choir master at Kingswood and he agreed to put together a day at their school for our choristers. They would sit in on a few classes, have a lesson from the choir master himself and interact with as many of their peers at Kingswood as possible. Lunch was of course also included – food always works with teenagers. On my way to Cape Town for a meeting of the South African Mathematics Olympiad committee, I popped into the chapel at Kingswood for our choir’s performance. For having done everything on their own, it was awesome – it really was, and I was incredibly proud of them. They all had a great time and came back bubbling with stories of what they had seen and experienced. I asked one of the grade 11 boys what stuck out for him. He told me how serious Kingswood pupils are about their work and that there is discipline and respect for teachers. He noticed that the pupils were not passive in class but asked questions and interacted vigorously with each other and the teacher. They also helped each other while working at academic tasks in their groups. I was delighted - now it is not only their mad Principal that tells them about these things at assembly and at every other opportunity that he can find – at least a few of them have now experienced it first hand at another school and will most certainly share it with their mates. This is exactly what I had hoped to achieve and what I hope the outcome of the HeronBridge experience will be. The pupils here need to see that success takes hard work and discipline and they need to hear it from their peers – that seems to somehow carry much more weight than the ramblings of their stodgy Headmaster. There is a sequel: The trip to Kingswood was on a Friday. The following Monday morning an e-mail from Philip sits in my Inbox. “A couple of my choir kids came to see me on Friday with a proposal: they would like to raise money to buy a piano for Healdtown.” It seems the visit had an impact on the Kingswood pupils as well! When I sat marking the third round papers of the South African Mathematics Olympiad at Diocesan College in Cape Town (Bishops) last Saturday, a thought occurred to me. Here I was sitting in one of the richest schools in the country – they have everything that opens and shuts. The newest technology, smart classes, plenty of green fields, the best sports equipment, fantastic teachers – everything a child could possibly want in their education. And yet there are pupils in that school that don’t do their homework, bait the teachers and generally don’t want to be there. You have them in all schools. Why are they like that? It seems to me that somehow they have no dream for the future. I have seen it again and again – when a child finds his/her passion and has some kind of hope for a brighter future, one doesn’t need to push and shove them anymore. A big part of our job as teachers is to ignite and then foster that dream – the rest will come almost automatically.
Thomas Hagspihl (Principal : Healdtown)