Quality, values, diversity: Chartwell Country College embodies ISASA’s mission

| April 10, 2017 | 0 Comments

BY MARLIEN OOSTHUIZEN AND GEOFF LATHY

Chartwell Country College (CCC) was created with the purpose of not only encouraging, but cherishing, individuality.

Our emblem – a phoenix rising anew from the ashes of the past – and motto, Gradatim Ferociter (“Moving forward, step by step”), encapsulates what we do best. Much like the phoenix that stretches its wings hesitantly, our children are fragile and need encouragement and kindness before they are capable of flying.

Diversity the norm at CCC

Our school has always been different – our founder was different, our principals are different, and our teachers are different. To say that we fix children is incorrect: children are not broken. Children are not glass. Children are pliable, exceptional beings and it requires a great amount of acceptance, perseverance and respect of all parties involved to help the children that come to CCC. We have made it our business to help those whom others do not have the time or resources to care for. Respect is absolutely crucial to this process: if implemented properly, it leads to both personal and interpersonal success, and a positive contribution to our CCC family and society as a whole. Situated in Fourways, Johannesburg, we are a tiny school of 100 students from a variety of backgrounds. Our students are Indian, black, white, coloured and Asian.

They are South African, Egyptian, Russian, Brazilian and South Korean. They are Zimbabwean, German, Belgian, Greek and American. Our students speak Afrikaans, English, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, German, French, Hangul, Portuguese and Arabic. Some students are not yet six years old, while others have celebrated their 20th birthdays.

Our students are tall and short, outgoing and introverted, bookish and sporty. Some of our students are academic superstars; others are very creative and excel in the arts. Some of our students join us from other schools, and some students have been with us since the foundation phase. Our students share a common happiness, having found a place of safe inclusion.

Charting an alternative route

We are non-conformists, who do not believe that everyone is the same. We believe that equal isn’t always fair. Although teaching a mainstream curriculum, our approach is not mainstream. The reason for this is simple: most of our children have come from mainstream schools, where they were not succeeding or were slipping through the cracks. To work with them in any traditional sense would be to invite failure. Although our children are different, they are no less able and no less deserving of our respect and attention. We are less interested in their behaviour than we are in the reasons for that behaviour, and we find that through mutual respect and guidance, we are able to achieve a level of trust and cooperation that fosters an environment of success. Respect and responsibility are non-negotiable terms at CCC, and each and every student and parent who walks through our doors is bound by that promise. Key to this is communication – there is no situation in which we do not honestly and openly communicate with our students, parents and staff members.

The CCC model

Part of this approach includes giving students the freedom to express their individuality: we focus much more on building solid academic foundations and creating an environment where students are comfortable in their skin, than we do on school uniforms or how long a student’s hair is. All our teaching resources go into helping children reach their full potential – whatever that may be – to pass the Cambridge International Examinations.1We also adopt a first-name approach between students and staff members. We believe that addressing someone as “sir” or “ma’am” is not necessarily indicative of respect: respect is harnessed when both student and teacher work passionately towards a common goal. Our approach is often light-hearted and our conduct casual, and we believe in positive reinforcement. Our principals have an open-door policy, and it is not uncommon to find a teacher sharing a cup of coffee with a student. We try to solve problems as soon as they arise – we don’t wait until Parents’ Day before addressing concerns and comments. It is a great source of pride that our students feel safe on our campus. The inclusive nature of our school means that a myriad of characters are able to find not only their academic balance, but also meaningful friendships.

Teachers are compassionate and passionate

None of this occurs without a context: our current principals, Marlien Oosthuizen and Geoff Lathy, and all our teachers and support staff are part of our family, and in no small measure responsible for our success. Our staff members have travelled all over the world. Some joined us directly after graduating as teachers, while others joined us to combat retirement. Our collective degrees are the result of studies of philosophy, archaeology, history, music, science, languages, literature and education. Our teachers paint, play the piano, revive injured animals, engage in community service, attend quiz nights, own businesses, knit, parent and coach. Some of our staff members have celebrated more than 30 years of marriage, while others are still fishing for their mates. Some are parents, and all expend their care on the students. Their diversity of experience increases the happiness of our students.

Following the road less taken

I have recently heard someone say that if your school isn’t listed on the stock exchange, then you are a fly-by-night; not a “real” school. This is grossly inaccurate, and we have always been in the business of children – not money. We want to generate happy students, not massive profits. This means that we would rather recommend that a child plays to their strengths – even if that means leaving our school – than fit a round peg into a square hole.

We have many success stories of children following the road less taken: we’ve had children who could not functionally read or write, or who have been sent from other schools, classified as inept and unteachable, who have successfully completed the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) curriculum2 with us. Many of them have gone on to study at universities, both abroad and locally. Part and parcel of creating a home for children to succeed and find acceptance is managing parental expectations: staff members have to fight for the students’ best interests – and help parents to accept the less conventional paths too.

In the past, we have even expelled children – an extreme measure – to help them grow. An example of this is the boy whose parents wanted him to finish school, but who was never going to. We recommended that his parents send him on a course in photography. He now takes pictures for National Geographic magazine.3 For us, different has always meant extraordinary – and that’s exactly what our children are. 

References:

1. See: http://www.cie.org.uk/about-us/.

2. See: http://www.igcsecentre.com/what-is-igcse/.

3. See: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/.

 

Category: Autumn 2017

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