First and Lasting Impressions

written by volunteer teacher Clare Lawlor

Sunday 30th July
Team Silversands arrived in Cape Town. All were thrilled with the lovely musical welcome we received from the Mellon Educate team and especially from the children and the principal of Ummangaliso. The children sang and danced and the excitement was palpable.

Monday 31st July
An early alarm got everyone up and moving and everyone left for their schools together for an 8.00 am start. The journey that first day was very shocking as the terrible reality of the townships outside Cape Town revealed itself. Silversands is a High School situated in Barndale, Kuilsriver. It has 930 Students and a total staff of 39 of which 29 are teachers. When we arrived at the school, we were so happy to meet our Mellon team, Chantel and Verity, with whom we had been in contact before our arrival. The school prefects stood in a guard of honour to welcome us and to accompany us in to the Hall where the whole school, staff and students, were assembled to meet us.

On day one, Chantel and Verity very helpfully had prepared an activity for us to assist us in moving around and orienting ourselves in the school. We had to visit different classes and talk to teachers and students to obtain information about the school for a questionnaire. This was a lovely way of becoming acquainted with the students and teachers and most enjoyable. Some of us were a bit more competitive than others and Chantel and Verity awarded a prize to our great team leader, Caitriona. Later in the day we met and talked to the Principal, Joy, the deputy principal, Sam and the senior management team.

Tuesday 1st August
On Tuesday the Silversands team dispersed among the 8th and 9th grades in Maths, Literacy and Creative Arts (Music). Already the learning was beginning both in terms of approaches, behavioural attitudes, management issues within and out of the classroom, student engagement and affirmation and fun. The students were very responsive and excited about our visit and already we were beginning to forge friendly relations with the wonderful staff of Silversands High School. On Tuesday the team were brought to visit the home of one of the 11th grade students. This was an exceptional experience for each and every one of us. We were very honoured to be given the opportunity to meet and talk to our student, her mother and her younger sister.

These were fine and wonderful people, who, in the face of extraordinarily difficult social, economic, emotional and practical challenges, have instilled in themselves and each other the importance of the goal of education. The sense of maturity, philosophical thought and the depth of engagement in the value of education was a predominant theme on our visit and we were literally blown away by what we heard and what we saw. This is a common, if not universal, theme that we have found since our arrival in Cape Town since Sunday. There is a real sense among some of the generation who emerged from the period of Apartheid of the importance of passing on a high level of education to enable their children to build better lives.

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