Capella House: A Deep Sense of Passion and Purpose

Capella House in Cape Town is a unique school that continues to blossom despite the current COVID-19 pandemic.

We live in a rapidly changing world where educational methods and requirements that worked in the past no longer prepare children fully for the world that awaits them as adults.

At Capella House we recognise that education is more than acquiring mental facts and literacy. Our perception is that, living in the 21st century, it is imperative that we provide opportunities for development in emotional, bodily, spiritual, social and environmental literacy. Strengths in these areas will determine whether the generations to come will inhabit a flourishing Earth or not. Children learn when they feel physically and emotionally and psychologically safe. Capella House appreciates the reality that feeling safe is the first step in productive learning.

Myrah (Grade 7): At Capella I am enough

Our desire is to see happy, vibrant children who know who they are, have a deep sense of passion and purpose, and feel compassion for themselves and others. We believe that supportive and kind communities go a long way to making stronger and more resilient individuals. Our Capella House community values connection and the school has created space within its schedule specifically for pupils – and also parents – to integrate socially.

The owner of Capella House, Malie Ntshangase, says:

We acknowledge that the children who walk through our school gates bring rich life experiences to the school environment. This lends itself beautifully to something we call social integration. This is time that is set aside early each morning so that as human beings we can connect. We create spaces in the school environment where parents can come into classrooms, play games in the playground with their children and engage with whomever they come across in our garden daily.

Thlalefo (Grade 4): At my old school the teachers were often in a bad mood and they were cruel. At Capella House it is always calm. The teachers are kind, and it makes the work easier for me

Staff well-being

The school’s caring and socially conscious attitude also applies to the members of staff. Sue Pool, the Grade 3 core teacher explains:

Capella House puts a strong emphasis on the wellbeing of their staff. Fortnightly personal development sessions are held where staff (including administrative staff and ground support) are encouraged to explore their own and each other’s personality traits. This not only supports team building and conflict resolution, but often means that conflicts are pre-empted simply by knowing, based on personality profiles, why colleagues would make certain decisions or experience certain reactions without taking things personally. The sense of calm that the school cultivates is created both by the emotional atmosphere and the physical environment.

Cayla Vahl, Capella’s Grade 4 and 5 core teacher, elaborates:

Our naturally inspired classrooms offer warm, welcoming, gentle and tranquil learning environments. The neutral colour palette, natural resources and plants surrounding the children calms their hearts, minds and bodies, inspires creativity and allows imagination to flow.

Pilot site for SEE Learning

Recognising that we are part of a global community, we have become a pilot school for Social, Emotional and Ethical Learning, known as SEE. This framework owes its existence to many international pioneers, researchers and educators who have explored creatively and thoughtfully what education can be, for present and future generations to flourish. All staff and learners are part of the SEE Learning experience, which powerfully supports our journey and vision to grow together in all areas of literacy.

In any setting where there are human interactions, conflict is bound to arise. At Capella House, we work with kindness and mutual respect. Our relationships are underpinned by what we call ‘agreements’. In each class the children and their teachers jointly decide on what they need to feel safe and heard. These class agreements are displayed in the classrooms and are reviewed each term. This empowering process results in acknowledging our individual and common human needs.

Lodize Deysel, the Pre-Primary core teacher says:

Agreements are decided between children and adults in the school. They are what makes our class and school feel safe. Imagine what living from a place of kindness and compassion for each other would look like if we all lived this way! An example of an agreement is: ‘We respect each other’s personal space.’ Agreements work really well for all parties as we all feel we have been heard and are part of the decision-making process.

Child-centred and curiosity driven learning

Capella House offers a child-centered learning approach. Whilst covering the national CAPS skills and curriculum content, we provide daily opportunities for curiosity-based learning. We integrate subjects through in-house projects and creative activities. This ensures that learning makes sense. Awareness grows in each learner through this methodology, which emphasises that school life and real life are not separate entities: they are intertwined. In this way learning becomes a dynamic and living process that fosters a life-long love of learning, fueled by an interest in the world around us.

Candice Grebe (parent):

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, Capella is that village. It is a place where individuality is not only accepted but nurtured and encouraged. For us, Capella has been more than just a school. It has been a family and community where we have been welcomed with open arms and held in a space of love, support and guidance.

Leah (Grade 6): Capella House is different because when bad things happen with other kids, we don’t get punished. We talk things out so that everything is resolved, and our heads are clear when we go back to class.

The school’s use of project-based methods allows learners to apply what they have learnt in tangible ways. Melissa Hill, the Grade 6 and 7 core teacher says:

Projects in our classroom breathe fresh air into traditional topics that learners may find tedious. We recently completed a project on utopian vs. dystopian societies. Rather than just read about these groups and look at images or create a poster, the class took their knowledge from the text and transformed the topic into a 3-D city sculpture. This method allowed learners to anchor the knowledge in a way that broke down the more complex ideas behind these ideologies and into their own miniature world.

When asked, learners prefer project-based learning to showcase the skills that they have acquired over a term. Using teamwork, organisational skills and time management, our learners produce concrete examples of applied learning again and again.

According to Annemarie Gerber, the creative arts teacher:

Our creative arts space includes performing arts (music, dance, drama) and visual arts (art history, different mediums and styles). Learners are given the opportunity to interpret and create their own unique art piece based on their individual style and perception. The process of creating is as important as the outcome.

Ray Doyle, the Grade 1 core teacher is equally proud of another initiative:

Capella House started a food garden this year focusing on bringing our community of parents, children and staff together to create something sustainable. This allows children the opportunity to explore the growing of our own food, which often requires maths, science, and literacy skills. We have observed how it builds teamwork, fosters patience and encourages children to take a deep dive into local environmental issues and how to resolve them.