By Melissa Lipschitz
Principia Independent School is a small private school situated in the beautiful Karoo town of Oudtshoorn.
Principia opened its doors in June 2011, and grew out of the former Principia College when a group of parents felt there was a need for a dual-medium (instruction in both Afrikaans and English) independent school. They sought a school to cater specifically for learners who need individual attention and smaller group interaction. Currently, Principia is run by a dedicated steering committee consisting of parents, educators and professionals from within the school and the broader community.
Steady, sustainable growth
Principia initially offered grades R–3 with only 11 enrolled learners, but introduced new grades as the demand grew. Three years ago, we decided to take a leap of faith and move the school just across the road from the old main building of the previous high school. We now have a beautiful, old, traditional stone building with a lovely garden and play area for the learners. The new facility provides us with more space for a library, chess room, art room, a kitchen and additional classrooms. Currently, we cater for grades RR–7 and have 59 learners enrolled. We reached a new milestone last year when we were evaluated by the Independent Quality Assurance Agency (IQAA)1 and received very positive feedback.
Over the past five years, Principia has formed positive and sustainable relationships with neighbouring schools in Oudtshoorn. We have a very good relationship with Langenhoven Gymnasium, as we make use of their sports field – within walking distance for our students – for our Athletics Day. We also use the Oudtshoorn School of Skills hall for our annual concert.
Gathering all together in Oudtshoorn
We have a well-balanced diversity profile: our staff and student cohorts comprise learners and teachers from different cultures, religions, language groups, countries and ethnic groups. Principia is based on a sound Christian ethos, although we focus more on shared values and messages during Bible time and assemblies. We celebrate religious holidays from all religions and one of our fundraisers is an International Evening, where we have food stalls from different countries around the world.
Doing things our own way
From the beginning, we wanted Principia to stand out and be completely unique, and offer parents and learners something no other school in Oudtshoorn does. For example, we are the only primary school in Oudtshoorn that offers kitchen and gardening classes for our junior learners. Students have the opportunity to work with kitchen equipment and are taught to read a recipe and cook simple dishes, which are sold at market days to teach pupils about money and entrepreneurial skills. In gardening class, students water flowers, plant seeds, build the compost heap, uproot weeds and learn about earthworm fertilisation. We do not use any poisonous substances or sprays at school or in the garden.
We are also the only school in Oudtshoorn with a “no hat, no play” policy for summer. Oudtshoorn gets extremely hot, with temperatures in the high 50s. If a learner forgets their hat, they may only play in the shade or on the porch.
We also have a no-sugar policy at school. This means that learners may only have healthy lunchboxes, with no sweets or sugars. They may also not have any cool drinks in their water
bottles – only water.
Tutoring in the “tweetaalig” classroom
Principia offers learners with extra learning barriers the opportunity to have their own tutor with them in class to assist them with their learning, since our classes are small enough to cater for these needs (there are never more than 15 children in one class). Occupational therapists and a learning support teacher also form part of our staff cohort.
We are a dual-medium school. All teachers will repeat everything they say in both English and Afrikaans. During lessons, the Afrikaans home language learners, for example, will do an activity or revision work while the teacher works with the first additional language learners to ensure that they fully understand the lesson.
Securing sporting facilities and financial sustainability
Principia is a young, small, school and we do not have enough learners to make up full sports teams to compete against other schools. We offer hockey, athletics and netball during school hours on the grass field at the school, and swimming, to expose our learners to different types of sport and to teach them about interacting as a team. We would like to establish better and more permanent sporting facilities for our learners.
Our other permanent challenge is securing funding. We always knew that as a small school, we would have to work very hard to get investors. Since we do not receive any government subsidies, we have a limited budget when it comes to marketing and advertising our school. We have wonderful and dedicated parents and teachers, who are actively involved in fundraisers to help deal with funding.
Being independent means infinite possibilities
Our independent status is precious to us, allowing us to offer our own flexible curriculum (in addition to the national curriculum, we offer Jolly Phonics2 for English instruction and Abacus3 for mathematics). Our small classes mean that students are actively involved in their own teaching and learning, enabling more opportunities for development and enrichment. Being an independent school makes each teacher and each student feel part of the Principia family.
1. See: http://iqaa.co.za/.
2. See: http://jollylearning.co.uk/overview-about-jolly-phonics/.
3. See: http://abacusmaths.co.za/.
Category: Summer 2016