Choose to care

| April 10, 2018 | 0 Comments

BY BARBARA BOWLEY

Nestled between the industrial area and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pinetown, St Benedict is a private, coeducational Catholic-based school catering for pupils from Grade RR to Grade 12.

Founded some 61 years ago on 22 January 1956 by the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood,1 the then- Pinetown Convent opened its doors to 32 pupils in an old wood-and-iron house. This was the humble beginning of an educational facility that has grown to become a school of over 420 pupils today.

Even a fire that swept through the school in 1971 could not dampen the spirits of the school. It was with a spirit of unity with the Sisters and a commitment to the school that the new classrooms were rebuilt over the Christmas holidays. These were ready for use when the school reopened in January 1972.

Guiding lights to steer the school

Still today, the school involves itself with the Mariannhill Monastery,2 and the Sisters are actively involved in the teaching and guiding of the school. As you enter the school, you are greeted by a statue of St Benedict, our patron saint,3 after whom the school is named. The involvement of the Sisters and the link with the monastery both influence the everyday workings of St Benedict School.

Assemblies and Masses are held continually throughout the term. We are blessed to have a practising nun, who along with the Ethos Committee keeps traditions and rituals central to the lives of all at St Benedict. Being based in the Durban area, the school has Cardinal Napier4 close by. He is a living human example of selflessness and compassion, and an excellent role model for our children.

Care in its many forms

In our fast-moving world of selfishness, instant gratification and individualism, our school has implemented the project of peer counsellors. These senior children take their jobs and responsibilities very seriously and make sure that the whole school community is emotionally and socially supported. They are tasked with classes both to look after and to interact with, making sure that they feel guided and loved. There is a family atmosphere, with big brothers and sisters being caregivers to the younger “siblings”. They are encouraged to chat to their senior peer counsellors, who can offer advice or a simple kind word in a difficult situation.

Care comes in many forms. We are excited about our theme for this year, which is “The Care for Creation”. This is an opportunity for the staff ’s creativity and innovative spirit to further link the curriculum with an ethos of care. Being fully multiracial, both the staff and the pupils learn tolerance, compassion and aspects of kindness. Thoughtfulness and civility are concepts developed and revisited on a continual basis. The aspect of caring for our environment is also encouraged. The chapel gardens, carefully tended to by the maintenance staff, are central to school life. This has inspired some of the Grade 7s to create their own gardening club. This will enable them to learn more about our environment – but, at the same time, allow them to be actively involved in beautifying the school and learn about different types of plants. Their idea is to transform a bare area in a quad, initially by planting three indigenous trees, so the rest of the school can enjoy better shade in our hot summer months in Durban. The active enviro club maintains ongoing initiatives of collecting and recycling paper and doing monthly environmental clean-ups. The milk bottle collection is active, and the school will soon be enjoying the rewards of new benches made from these recycled milk bottles. Once the school has sufficient equipment, the club will be looking at ways in which it can support local communities.

Care means expanding your notion of community

In Corinthians in the Bible, one may read the words: “Written not with ink but with the spirit of charisma; not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”5 This verse holds true for the underlying ethos that is at pivotal at St Benedict. Children are encouraged to think beyond themselves and to focus their attention on the needs of the wider community. Fund-raising cake sales are held to bring a cheer to children at an orphanage; classes pack sandwiches to be taken to feeding stations; classes make and colour in greeting cards to be taken to old age homes, to bring a smile to those who need it most. We truly are a small school with a big heart, living up to our motto of Ora et Labora, meaning “To work is to pray”.

Projects initiated by the new Dennis Hurley Centre in Durban6 are fully supported by the school. We participate in collection drives that are required to help those in need, especially during the 2017 floods experienced in Durban.7 Groups of students go into town to feed the homeless and the poor, alms boxes are collected over the Lenten period, and last year, we offered to sing at the cathedral as a celebration. The pupils were also afforded the opportunity of a tour to the local mosque and the cathedral next door, to develop an understanding of the difference between and workings of two faiths.

Joining ISASA means St Benedict can embrace change

The inevitable task of any school is to be the best at what it can be. Often a school becomes complacent and content with where it is at. St Benedict has challenges facing it in the future, as does any school in South Africa. With the history and background in mind, the need for the school – under the management of Barbara Bowley as new principal, ably assisted by new heads of both the high and primary schools, Sean Topper and Gill Rayner respectively – to join ISASA was paramount. Being involved with an organisation that assists schools and teachers to collaborate and share ideas is all part and parcel of the school’s ethos. At St Benedict School, we are blessed to have committed, creative staff who all have a similar passion for education. Knowing this allows us to believe that we are a school which is ready to embrace change and forge a way forward, remembering that the child is central to all decisions we make. The pupils in the primary school are exposed to lessons in religious education, music, dance, art and physical education, and from next year, speech and drama, thus allowing them to become holistic individuals.

Defining character

Truly great South African citizens are characters with profoundly moral values and good purpose, who set high standards and are prepared to sacrifice and to offer commitment and care. Author James Kerr writes, “Our character is defined by the contribution we make, the responsibility we take and the leadership we show.”8 Twice a term in the primary school, the children are awarded merit badges. One does not have to be the top academic or the best at sports, but rather someone who has made a difference in caring for their work, or a difference to others around them.

Creating more caring every day

With reference to a beautiful article entitled “50 questions to ask your kids after school instead of ‘how was your day?’”,9 by author Leslie Means, one can always check the barometer of caring by asking, for example, if your child/student can tell you an example of kindness that they saw during the day. Caring for others is paramount at St Benedict School. Have we got it completely right as yet? The answer would have to be no, it is a work in progress. We continually remind all the pupils to care for one another, to care for their teachers and to be kind in all that they do. Creating a community of kindness and care will eventually enable a country of kindness and care. We may only be a small drop in our ocean of carelessness and cruelty in South Africa, but we can make a difference. I honestly do believe that.

References:

1. See: http://missionarysisterspreciousblood.org/

2. See: http://mariannhillmonastery.org.za/

3. See: http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=26

4. See: https://zulumissions.co.za/about-us/

5. See: http://biblehub.com/2_corinthians/3-3.htm

6. See: http://www.denishurleycentre.org/?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

7. See: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/massive-storm-floods-hitdurban-residents-urged-to-stay-indoors-20171010

8. Kerr, J. (2013) Legacy. London: Constable & Robinson.

9. See: https://herviewfromhome.com/50-questions-to-ask-your-kids-instead-ofasking-how-was-your-day/

Category: Autumn 2018

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