By Ryan Van Lelyveld
In 1925, E.W. Burgess presented an urban land use model1 that suggested that the “flow” of human settlement was best described by a series of concentric circles, which radiated from some epicentre of “economic activity”.
The most basic idea of the model would see, for example, the discovery of gold in 1886 acting as a trigger for a settlement on the Witwatersrand.2 If many people are settling “around” an important pull factor, then the idea of a “circle” emerges because all the individuals want to be as close to the action as possible. The theory is flawed,3 but the idea of an economic activity driving a human settlement is a valid argument that holds true to this very day.
The model theorises that schools are only built once a need for them arises. I would like to forward the notion that although schools are not initial triggers for human settlement, they nonetheless quickly become some of the main economic activities in a settlement. If we add a “soul” to a settlement, then we emerge with the idea of a community that exists on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. It is the schools that capture the essence of a community.
Over the years, I have seen schools start in particular areas and grow from strength to strength over time. When one goes to schools on a Saturday for a sport Derby Day, you will see how a school provides a platform for people within that community to unite and feel a part of. Slowly, over time, this sense of community – this soul – develops with the help of our parent bodies and learners.
Whether we measure economic activity by time or money, the school is often the common denominator for human endeavours. Parents work long hours to put their children into what they consider are good schools. Children spend more time with their teachers than their parents while engaging in the “business of learning”, so that they can ultimately be a success in some economic activity and, in turn, support their future children.
By elevating schools in the hierarchy of social constructs, we can then bury the notion that schools are simply industrialised factories that churn out products. The school drives the community and the community, in turn, drives the school.
It is a little naïve to strive for this symbiotic relationship at a time when the world has succumbed to the notion that, as Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbours.”4 If a school has soul, it breaks down barriers that society erects. To see it in a different light, our schools are perhaps the only source of true inspiration for a faltering global community. This makes for very exciting times within education.
Brick by brick
Building Blocks as an organisation was started 15 years ago by owners Lesley and Vicus de Jager. They started their first nursery school in Vorna Valley, in the Midrand area of Johannesburg in Gauteng. Their model was simply built around childcare. They wanted to ensure that every child who was in their care was nurtured. Their reputation grew over time and, over the next few years, they opened two other branches: Noordwyk and Sandridge. The preparatory school was established as a result of pressure from their parent body at the nursery schools over the years. It was opened in 2013, and our numbers have grown exponentially during our first two years.
Partnering with parents
As a school, we have focused on a child-centred learning environment, which ties in with how Building Blocks was started. As an organisation, we have focused on the community, and what the challenges are for our parent body. Considering that Midrand is a growing area with many young families, the majority of our parents work. Keeping this in mind, we offer a dynamic and healthy sporting and cultural environment to fill the hours after school. With our fleet of school buses, we also assist parents with school transport to and from learners’ homes, as it is not always possible for parents to collect their children when school finishes. We believe it is important to identify the challenges that exist within our community and to assist where possible. We feel that with this attitude, we are making a difference within our community.
When building the preparatory school, it was always the intention of the owners to ensure that the learners had everything they needed. Infrastructure is a key component to a functioning and healthy school, and we ensured that this was addressed and in place before we opened.
Visit to experience a sense of soul
We also realised how important it was to develop and create a constructive relationship with the other schools in our area. In this day and age, I believe it is imperative for schools to collaborate and to share ideas for the betterment of education as a whole.
There is a quote that I believe every school should have in the forefront of their minds. Said Pope John Paul II: “If a community is to be a home, it needs a soul. You, the people, must give it that soul.”5 It is my belief that when every school starts, it develops a soul and builds a relationship with the community. The trick is for schools to ensure that everyone nurtures that soul.
As a school, we record our success with the tangibles such as academic reports, competition results and the quiet fist-pumps of award winners at prize-givings. The intangibles are more difficult to measure, and it is only on a visit to our school that these traits are experienced and, hopefully, relished.
To end, it is pleasing to see how so many schools are influencing and making a difference within their communities. I encourage them to carry on doing so, as this will make all the difference in our profession.
1. See, for example: https://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch6en/conc6en/burgess.html.
2. See, for example: http://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/glitter-gold.
3. See, for example: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-2427.12134/pdf.
4. See, for example: http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/frost-mending.html.
5. See, for example: http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/themes/communityparticipation/.
Category: Spring 2016