Drawing people together

| September 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

St Henry’s Marist College joins ISASA

By Rene Van Zyl

From their humble roots in Lyon, the Brothers today have spread across the globe, seeking to fulfil Champagnat’s dream of “making Jesus known and loved”. Worldwide, there are more than 4 500 Brothers working in 77 countries on six continents. They share their mission and spirituality with more than 40 000 laypeople, and educate close to 500 000 children and young people in schools.

Marist Brothers come to South Africa

South Africa was the first country outside Europe that the Brothers came to in 1867, only 27 years after Champagnat’s death. Over the next seven decades, they founded schools in several centres throughout South Africa, including Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Pietermaritzburg and Durban. There are now five Marist schools in South Africa: three in Johannesburg, one in Cape Town and St Henry’s Marist College in Durban.

The initial directive from the church to the Marist Brothers concerned the Christian education of the sons of Catholic colonials. However, right from the beginning, the Marist Brothers’ schools were open to children of all faiths. In the Marist Brothers’ ‘constitutions’ (in which their values, ideals and principles by which they live are described), one article says:

The Marist School, as envisaged by Father Champagnat, offers families an approach to education which draws faith, culture and life into harmony. It is an approach which stresses the values of self-forgetfulness and openness to others, which presents culture as a way of drawing people together and proposes knowledge as a duty of service. Our schools which are open to any family that accepts our educational approach, encourage dialogue between persons of different cultures and different beliefs.

From nine to nearly 800

St Henry’s Marist College in Durban was founded in 1929. Standing on 20 acres on the Ridge, in Upper Glenwood, the college commands a panoramic view across the city and the bay and the Indian Ocean beyond. From its beginnings with just nine pupils, all boys, more than eight decades later, St Henry’s Marist College has grown to into a co-educational school from Grade 000 to Grade 12. Fifty-three full-time teachers and parttime subject specialists educate almost 800 children from multicultural backgrounds and different faiths, from as far afield as Ballito on the north coast, Amanzimtoti on the south coast and Hillcrest inland.

Our ethos is the key to our unique nature. It is underpinned by five pillars drawn from Champagnat’s teaching vision:

  • Presence: Spending time with young people provides opportunities to enter their lives, build up relationships and understand them better.
  • Simplicity: Being childlike as in the spirit of the Gospel means avoiding duplicity, pretence and empty show. Relationships are open and honest.
  • Family spirit: There is a place for everyone. A sense of belonging is fostered. A sound family does not neglect moral authority and expectations.
  • Mary’s way: Mary was a prayerful woman of faith; obedient and grateful to the Lord. She was concerned for others and stood by those who suffered.
  • Love of work: Our founder’s practical lifestyle moved others to work hard and to respect all kinds of work. He balanced work with prayer and a life in his community. This last tenet is particularly relevant to us; we strive to live in harmony with our community. Consequently, we are seen as a good option for families looking for a reasonably priced coeducational environment for their children. We also work hard to maintain solid sporting and cultural links with the other independent schools is our area. Additionally, many of the ‘feeder’ schools whose students enrol with us for high school are state schools. And, although we write the Independent Examination Board (IEB) examinations, we have a good working relationship with the Department of Education.

The challenge: to move forward without losing a uniquely Marist nature
Building solid relationships does not, however, preclude the challenges that face many schools. St Henry’s had to deal with change in the form of going from a senior school to a school with classes from pre-primary (Grade 000) all the way through to matric; from being a boys-only school to one that is now fully co-educational; and from having a Marist Brother as principal to welcoming a layperson into this leadership role.

The greatest challenge of all over the last two years has been ensuring that the college has a strategic plan and vision that will take us well into the 21st century, without losing what is uniquely Marist. Part of that strategic plan is to protect the independence we have cherished since inception: to us it represents the freedom to make decisions about which curriculum to follow, which extramural and cultural programmes to choose and who to appoint to our teaching staff.

ISASA assists with accountability

Another component of our strategic plan was joining ISASA. Although we belong to the Catholic Independent Education group, we were the only one of the five Marist schools in South Africa that didn’t yet belong to ISASA. We were impressed by the quality of the information that our colleagues had access to through the various ISASA forums, as well as the large network of schools with which they could form fruitful partnerships through bodies such as the South African Heads of Independent Schools Association (SAHISA) and the South African Bursars of Independent Schools Association (SABISA).

The college executive team was also aware of our accountability to our parents. In an independent school you are responsible for formulating relevant and helpful policies and strategies within your school. You are not only accountable for the academic performances of your students and teachers, but also for financial administration, staffing issues, maintenance and marketing, for example. We saw that ISASA could provide us with information needed to keep our business and learning environment at the forefront of the latest changes.

When we had made our decision to join ISASA, we were put in touch with Ronnie Todd, the KwaZulu-Natal regional director, who explained to us exactly what the association requires from prospective member schools. We were impressed by the amount of detail and information that was needed to complete the application form, that clearly serves to ensure that we comply with the high standards ISASA expects from member schools. On completion of the paperwork, Todd and Ken Elliot, principal of an independent ISASA school in our area, came to do a site visit and met with the college executive. Within a short period of time, our application was approved.

We received a warm welcome in the form of a letter confirming our status as ‘active member’, inviting us to join SABISA and SAHISA, and to submit a short description of our school with pictures to be placed on the ISASA website.

Sustainability and spirit make us equal to the task

Shortly after joining ISASA, the college executive attended the association’s Sustainability Workshop. It was of immense value, teaching us to use our own school statistics to plot future trends. This workshop alone made joining ISASA worthwhile. We look forward to the workshops and seminars planned for the rest of 2012, and to accessing all the policies and documents which ensure that we stay abreast of the latest legislation. To other schools considering ISASA membership, we say, join as quickly as possible!

The school motto is ‘Omnia Vincite’ (‘conquer all difficulties’). It is in this spirit that St Henry’s Marist College maintains its belief in the importance of educating the ‘whole person’ in all his or her spiritual, academic, physical, social and emotional fullness. To be of service to one’s fellow man is the platform upon which our educational process is built, and we are confident that, in the spirit of the Gospel and under God’s guidance, we will be equal to the challenges that will come.

Category: Spring 2012

About the Author ()

News posts added for Independent Education by Global Latitude DMA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *