Challenging the stereotype: CityKidz Pre and Primary School brings colour and hope to the inner city

BY SHELLEY CORRIGAN AND SHARON REYNOLDS

New ISASA member CityKidz Pre and Primary School was created as a social initiative by Africa Housing Company (Afhco) Holdings,1 and opened in January 2008.

Its mission is to improve educational facilities for inner-city children in Johannesburg in Gauteng. Many inner-city schools are located in derelict buildings in environments not suited for learning.

CityKidz is a burst of colour amidst its grey inner-city surroundings. In a cramped, crowded urban environment, the school provides a safe, clean space in which children can attend school. The children refer to it as a “real school” and “not a building school”.

There is a mini Astroturf and a netball court, giving the illusion of a field and something of a playground. There is a new hall, where the entire school can be seated at once. There are flowers, and shrubs planted in painted tyres, decorated dustbins, a vegetable garden and fantastic graffiti artwork sprayed onto walls. CityKidz is an independent school that is Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS)2 compliant and strives to offer a varied, dynamic education to its learners.

Afhco deserves applause

Afhco is a property investment, development and management company and working closely with other development agencies, the South African Police Service (SAPS) and major financial institutions, Afhco is actively involved with uplifting all aspects of inner-city living. his team of teachers collectively laid the foundation upon which CityKidz could grow. Currently, the school provides quality care and education to about 600 pupils from Grade RR to Grade 7, with a vision of creating a high school on an adjacent property in the future.

Maximising space

The school is situated on approximately one acre of ground – which, in addition to 22 classrooms, offices, a computer room, sick room and new hall, provides more than 3 000 m² of open playground. This allows space for outdoor activities, climbing and play equipment, as well as parking for teachers.

Class sizes are relatively small, averaging at 1:28. Within each class, there is a range of South African and southern African cultures, languages and religions. English is the medium of instruction and is studied as a home language, whilst Afrikaans is studied as a first additional language. IsiZulu has been introduced this year as the second additional language.

Whilst mathematics, science and computers are seen as focus areas, attention to language development, creative expression, critical thought and responsible citizenship is also fostered. Wherever possible, the children are exposed to the arts and social sciences, as well as outdoor and environmental education. They also take part in physical education, and the school enters netball and soccer teams into the primary school league of the Johannesburg South District. An athletics team is chosen to represent CityKidz at regional competition level.

Seizing every opportunity

The older children attend the Jozi Book Fair4 annually, where they benefit from being on the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) campus with their peers from other schools. The grades 4–6 learners take part in various spelling bee competitions,5 showing great enthusiasm and aspiration and doing a lot of hard work. General knowledge is also an area of learning that is actively encouraged. Questions are posed in the weekly school newsletter, Kidz Chronicle, and followed up each Friday in assembly and discussed in classrooms, and an interhouse general knowledge competition is held once a year.

The school was recently privileged to have the company of internationally renowned professional graffiti artists from France, Spain, Portugal and the US. The artists were guests of Artists4Israel,6 a non-governmental organisation that brings together avant-garde artists in underrepresented art forms to create social change. Artists from around the world unite with the aim of uplifting struggling communities through the arts. During the three days that they were in attendance at CityKidz, local artists joined the initiative. They conducted a workshop with Grade 7 and Grade 3 learners, and they generously and wonderfully beautified a number of walls.

On the day of the workshop, the school was abuzz with energy, activity and anticipation. The children love being exposed to and involved in activities that are above and beyond their typical daily experience. They enthusiastically embrace opportunities afforded to them – especially those that take them out of the concrete jungle context and present an alternative possibility. The artists presented a positive, creative and constructive option to expressing “the voice of the ghetto” – one not linked to violence, crime or destructive action, but one of upliftment and positive social change. Their work is a great addition to the already pleasing aesthetic that this inner-city primary school provides to its immediate surroundings.

Changing the face of the environment

Every year, there is a whole school competition aimed at motivating and encouraging teamwork and improving the quality of the school setting. In 2015, tyre gardens were established. In 2016, reading corners appeared in each classroom and, in 2017, murals will be created from bottle tops.

CityKidz children and staff were involved with the iThemba7 project, which focused on the importance of recycling and the creative use of plastic. Learners collected plastic bottles prior to the workshop and, on the day, completed messages of hope and placed them inside the bottles. They then assisted the team placing bottles into a wire mesh sheet, which was used as part of a 20 metre-high installation around an old telephone tower at the Spaza Garden Art Gallery in Troyeville. Each bottle has a small light inside and is lit up at night.

School sleepout left a profound impression

The school also participated in the Sun International School SleepOut8 in mid-winter last year. Despite criticisms levelled at the initiative,9 the school felt it was an opportunity to cultivate compassion and show support for those in greater need. Away from the leafy suburbs, the streets of central Johannesburg are home to many adults and children. CityKidz learners are witness to the harsh conditions outside on the street. They see homelessness, prostitution, drug abuse, violence, crime, congestion and pollution. They express fear about walking to school and what they see. When the recent municipal elections resulted in the appointment of Mayor Herman Mashaba,10 they wrote heartfelt letters to him, reflecting their reality as well as their dreams for a safer, cleaner environment.

Changing the future

It would not be unusual that a typical trajectory of an inner-city child may involve crime, violence, substance abuse and eventual unemployment. CityKidz challenges this notion. As much as possible, the school strives to inspire learning through activities and experiences that take place in environments beyond the borders of what may be expected of an inner-city school. This approach is underpinned by the belief that the possibilities are endless, the world is enormous and with a solid educational foundation, and the requisite effort, there is no limit. CityKidz learners are encouraged to proceed confidently into the wider world, drawing on the skills and knowledge acquired in their primary schooling.

CityKidz is indeed able to go above and beyond and, in the words of one of the school’s recited communal greetings, “shine like a bright, bright star”.

References:

1. See: http://www.afhco.co.za/.

2.See:http://www.education.gov.za/Curriculum/CurriculumAssessmentPolicyStatements(CAPS).aspx

3. See: https://www.saps.gov.za/.

4. See, for example: http://newlearningonline.com/new-learning/chapter-

5/apartheid-education.

5. See: http://www.jozibookfair.org.za/.

6. See, for example: http://africanspellingbee.com/.

7. See: http://www.joburgtheatre.com/robin-hood-and-the-babes-in-the-wood/ .

8. See: http://www.artists4israel.org/.

9. See: http://10and5.com/2016/06/29/ithemba-tower/.

10. See, for example: https://www.facebook.com/events/263979697310448/ and http://theceosleepoutza.co.za/.

11. See, for example: http://www.thedailyvox.co.za/poverty-porn-and-theproblem-with-ceos-playing-homeless/.

12. See, for example: http://www.destinyman.com/2016/08/22/johannesburgmayor-elected/.

 

 

Category: Winter 2017

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