A healthy heartbeat: Whole Life Education Centre (McGregor Waldorf Primary School and McGregor High School) celebrates 21 years of innovative sustainability

| August 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

“Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen1

The ‘cracks’ in our school let in the light and are certainly the main reason we are still here. “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative,”2 is how author H.G. Wells put it.

Our facilities are limited and we have to be creative and resourceful, often with surprisingly successful results. Even our school buildings are converted houses. Walls go up and come down, depending on our current needs, and every classroom is as different as the occupants.

Because we are in an isolated village in the rural Western Cape, we have many students who cannot afford the fees without some form of sponsorship, and who are from diverse racial and social groups. We must therefore continuously pioneer new ways to be true to our Waldorf values and to offer quality education to these children.

Necessity the mother of invention

We can’t get stale, because we are constantly reinventing ourselves. Teachers come with new energies and children bring different needs. This creates an atmosphere of flexibility and fosters experimentation. Incentives depend on the staff and have led us in many directions. One of the parents worked with grades 8 and 9 students to build a pizza oven, who sold pizzas to the village on Fridays as a fund-raising venture. The teacher who almost singlehandedly began the high school implemented many eco-friendly projects. He organised funding for rainwater tanks. The tanks are still operational, although he has started another initiative in the village and is now only marginally involved with the school.

Our school is too small to field proper sports teams, so when a local karate instructor offered extramural karate lessons, this form of martial arts took off in a big way. Many of our students have been selected for the Boland team over the years, and some have even made it to the national team. Our sensei has become entrenched at the school. He is now also our much-loved sports instructor!

Building on our values

At any given time, there are areas of excellence and strengths that take hold. The hostel began with three children who were accommodated, along with their hostel parent, at a local backpackers. The next year we had 13 children, and we rented guest cottages for them. We eventually built our present hostel on the school grounds, which has facilities for 30 children. Last year, we added a swimming pool to provide fun and relief from the extreme heat of our semi-desert summer days. At the moment, the hostel is run by a splendid couple, who use their catering experience and love of gardening and parenting to make it truly a ‘home from home’.

Our intrepid hostel parents have run restaurants and guesthouses. On special occasions, all the raw ingredients are prepared for the hostel children to create and cook their own stir-fries at a pool braai. Birthdays are celebrated with homebaked cakes.

We know our niche

The outward forms keep changing, but our heartbeat is constant and healthy. Since its inception, the school has followed Steiner’s art of education, with the emphasis being on ‘the art’.3 This demands continual reassessment of lesson plans and inspired thinking, as each class is very different in terms of ability and background. When the high school grew out of the primary school, creativity remained our focus, with visual and dramatic arts being offered as matric subjects. This filled a gap in the education offered in our vicinity; other local schools have an academic approach and the medium of instruction is Afrikaans. Students come here to master the international language of English and to explore our cultural diversity in an egalitarian environment – a rare and treasured phenomenon in rural areas.

Busses and bookbinding

Our bookbinding business – run by staff, members of the community and old pupils – has helped us survive many a rocky financial patch. Bookbinding began as a practical lesson for the middle school a few years ago. We made lesson books for our primary school students – cutting, folding and stapling in relays. We found that we could make the books at a competitive price and offered our services to other Waldorf schools. There were too many orders for the students to continue to make the books. When a parent volunteered her services to pay off outstanding school fees, she ended up with a full-time job and salary!

We (particularly our bursar) are always exploring other ways of finding money for the continued operation of the school. The minibus that picks up our children from outlying areas was empty on its journey out of the village. He instituted a service for children from the village who attend the other schools in the area. Now our bus is full on both trips and transport costs are partly funded by these children.

On 19 and 20 June 2015, we rang the bells in celebration of 21 whole years!

References:

1. See, for example: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/leonpardcohen/anthem.html and http://www.who2.com/bio/leonard-cohen.
2. See: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/h/hgwells121062.html.
3. See: http://www.steinerwaldorf.org/.

Category: Spring 2015

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