Boosting inclusion

| September 13, 2018 | 0 Comments

BY MARGARITA LA GRANGE

In 2013, in a small building on the northeast side of Johannesburg, a group of eight children and four teachers met with remedial therapist, Margie La Grange, and the Boost Academy was born! From the onset, La Grange was determined to build a school that made a difference, hence our motto: “We do school differently.”

The environment and attitude at Boost focuses on preparing children for life, taking with them the values of integrity, respect and tolerance. In an ever-changing world, the only constant is change and our universal values ensure a solid foundation from which the learners can launch successfully into the world of adulthood. Education is changing, and transformation in South Africa is long overdue. We only need to look at educational developments in countries such as Finland,1 where subjects, classrooms and grades have been disregarded. This is groundbreaking and revolutionary yet makes complete sense. The focus is on engagement, enquiry and research, vital for shaping our future generation. Developing critical thinking in our learners becomes far more valuable than the old approach of a contentbased top-down approach to teaching. Our children don’t need that anymore. What they need is to be introduced to the wonderful world of learning through investigation, experimentation, thought and analysis. As South African educators, we must stand up and take notice of the small changes we can effect in the classroom, to transform the face of our current education system. This is Boost Academy’s mission.

21st century etiquette places everyone on an equal footing

There are no uniforms at Boost and the children address the teachers by their first names. Contrary to the belief that uniforms and the manner in which teachers are addressed are necessary to promote discipline, respect and good manners, Boost is a constructive educational facility where good manners and etiquette are the order of the day. Nothing less is tolerated. In order to accommodate Boost’s growth over the past six years, the school moved into a beautiful, new, spacious and welcoming campus in 2018, combining the primary school with the middle school in Highlands North (Boost’s Cape Town campus, which opened in 2016, is situated in Gardens, the heart of the vibrant Mother City). The benefits of having these age groups on one campus has exceeded our expectations. It’s absolutely marvellous to watch the social interaction. More senior learners have taken upon themselves the value of leadership and everybody has a friend. The layout of the property is not only conducive to an effective learning ethos, it also lends itself to a greater feeling of security and a closeness that is quite family-like. The Boost Academies in both Johannesburg and Cape Town are fortunate to be situated in areas that are the right in the centre of many diverse cultures, aligning perfectly with our vision, goals and ideals. Boost has a strong desire to ensure that the education offered moves away from the idea of a traditional school-like institution to a place where children grow without labels, prejudice, judgment or pre-conception. Boosting the whole child and the community

Many educators talk of the three capacities of the child that require education: mind, body and soul.2 Most schools pay a great deal of attention to the intellectual and physical aspects. These are areas that are easy to monitor, and the results are obvious. Boost is determined to devote time to educating the whole child. Learners experience out-of-the-box learning, and in so doing understand the pleasure of unconditional giving and sharing. The Boost community prides itself on adding value to the environment by paying attention to those in South Africa who are less fortunate, as well as listening to those who are unable to make themselves heard. This automatically changes attitudes and the newly learned tolerance filters through to the classroom and certainly into the home environment.

Feuerstein fits in

At Boost, learners’ needs and diverse learning styles are met on a highly invidualised level. Due to the small classes, learners who require additional support and emotional regulation are assisted within the classroom situation. Our job is to provide a quality environment where hungry minds and muddled teenagers have the space to reveal or portray their feelings and views through various channels and relevant means. Boost Academy embraces and encourages inventive ideas, from “flipping the classroom”3 to an alternative homework policy that encourages application at home of what is learnt in school. Our learners benefit from weekly lessons based on Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment Programme,4 which is included as part of our curriculum offering. Our “ring the bell” game brings much excitement. When learners hear the bell ring, they stop what they are doing, go outside with a book and spend 15 minutes reading to themselves. Study skills courses are offered each term, guiding learners in the most productive ways of learning how to learn. Our Word of the Week (WOW) exercise builds vocabulary skills, and the Jolly Journal teaches the very important concepts of gratitude and reflection. Our annual Market Day is the calendar highlight, combining entrepreneurship skills with the Economic Management Sciences curriculum for grades 7, 8 and 9.

Observation an integral part of inclusion programme

Teachers have eagerly accepted this open and free atmosphere and the creative juices flow in all learning areas. In order to enhance imagination and inspire our children to explore their talents, we introduce them to various dance genres and innovative art classes. This culminates in a talent show and art exhibition at the end of each year where parents are invited to purchase their children’s art at the school’s major annual fund raiser. Boost appreciates the value of ongoing seminars and study groups, and teachers attend workshops on a regular basis. However, in order to ensure an atmosphere that suits the type of nurturing that benefits the Boost learners, the teachers take advantage of observing the children in their various surroundings and under different conditions. Training of this kind is continuous, professional, hands on and relevant. And then there is the “playground watch”. What better time is there to critically observe and note the emotional state, interactions and relationships of the learners? Teachers meet regularly to discuss and motivate each other to deal with issues that may arise on the playground or incidents of concern that may have been noticed in other surroundings. When necessary, specialists are invited to give assistance and guide teachers. This process revamps and transforms the way in which our children are monitored and interventions implemented.

Understanding difference

Boost has an open-door policy. We maintain that interaction and dissemination of learner information to parents is essential. Over and above our feedback evenings and meetings, parents are always kept in the loop regarding the information gleaned from the teachers’ attentive perception of the learners. The teachers at Boost understand the benefit of relaying information promptly to parents. The Boost Academy is transparent and encourages parents to visit the campus and meet with relevant teachers and the principal. The Boost Academy is a melting pot of young people, each with their own unique qualities and strengths, personal desires, dreams and wishes. We focus on the well-being and progress of every child, and all are treated with equal worth. We work on the premise that the most effective way of educating a child is to adapt the way that we teach to suit the individual child, rather than expecting every child to fit into a system that may not be suitable. Differences are recognised, respected and valued and it is understood that diversity is not only a strength but the making of an interesting and exciting community.

Margarita La Grange owns Boost Academy.

References:
1. See: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/finland-schoolssubjects-are-out-and-topics-are-in-as-country-reforms-its-education-system-10123911.html
2. See: http://iceont.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Building-Capacity-to-Educate-Mind-Body-Spirit-Toolkit.pdf
3. See: https://www.cte.cornell.edu/teaching-ideas/designing-your-course/flippingthe-classroom.html
4. See: http://www.icelp.info/feuerstein-method/instrumental-enrichment-(ie).aspx

Category: Spring 2018

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