Creating a culture of reading together

| January 23, 2020 | 0 Comments

BY GLADYS AYAYA

The St Stithians College community engagement curriculum is intended to
create planned learning experiences for our students through developing
significant partnerships between the college and partner institutions and
organisations in greater Johannesburg and beyond.

As a Methodist Church school, the college embraces the ethos of ‘social holiness’ and looks in particular to developing partnerships with projects associated with the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Through community engagement (CE), the college’s intention is to provide a curricular framework: defining goals and outcomes, creating connected and age-appropriate activities and programmes, defining progression and phases across all the schools on its multi-school campus, and encouraging innovation and ownership in the journey of each student. The foundation
of our community engagement curriculum is guided by the principles contained in Galatians 5:22-23 of the Bible,1 and the Round Square Discovery Framework.2 Our values are defined by the school honour code and the Saints character development model, providing diverse opportunities for our students and staff to honour God, honour others and honour self; to know oneself, to be oneself, and to contribute as African
and global citizens.

How St Stithians Boys’ College views Community Engagement

St Stithians Boys’ College follows the college’s greater vision of CE and adapts it in line with the needs of its young men, some of whom are destined to be our next leaders. We view CE as a vehicle that equips our learners with knowledge and skills for living in South Africa’s diverse society. CE is therefore embraced as one of the seven pillars on which the boys’ education is founded, and it is an integral part of the life orientation curriculum. The richness of CE is that it is mutually beneficial to both the giver and the recipient. On the one hand, the lives of our boys are continually transformed and enriched as they engage with other communities, and in a spirit of reciprocity, the lives of those whom they serve are improved.

As a school, we are moving away from the practice of ‘doing things for the community’ and instead, we are engaging through talks, activities and projects that enable us to learn from each other. The boys are enjoying these interactions that expose them to different languages and cultures, opportunities that dare them to step into new territories; hence breaking tensions, stereotypes and other societal barriers that divide us and are inherited from the apartheid regime.

At a recent workshop on CE held at St Andrew’s School for Girls in Johannesburg, Reverend Roger Cameron, CEO of the Anglican Board of Education for Southern Africa, broke down the levels of serving communities thus: serving through Random acts of kindness (level 1); service to humanity through sustainable CE projects (level 2) and fighting for justice and transformation (level 3). After the workshop, some St Stithians boys took it upon themselves to transform the reading culture
of Klip Valley Primary School.

The Klip Valley Primary School library project

Klip Valley Primary School (KVPS) is a no-fee government school in Doornkop, Soweto. It serves the local, mostly under resourced community. More than 1 500 children from Grade R to Grade 7 attend the school, which historically had no library, nor supplementary reading material that could enhance the students’ communication and literacy skills. They relied mainly on their school textbooks, and as most parents did not receive formal education, there was no promotion of reading at home. A former teacher at the school, Thulisile Mhlophe, who now teaches isiZulu at St Stithians Boys’ College, described KVPS to our CE committee, and the boys felt that it was their social responsibility to act.

One major challenge that usually comes with such projects is funding. The committee was tasked with coming up with a budget. It was then agreed that each of the 16 volunteers would contribute an amount of R300 towards buying paints and supplies for the project, and that a further R700 each would pay for transport so that the boys could travel together in one bus. The school would pay for the shortfall if any arose. The boys would bring their own lunches and the necessary equipment for use, as is customary with regard to the April and August Boys’ College school projects.

Initial engagement

Meeting the community for the first time is usually a vital connection point for any project, and it can lead to success or failure. Because of the vast difference in the backgrounds of the two communities – the hosts being the less privileged and the visitors coming into their space from a place of privilege – CE staff talked to the boys about appropriate ways to greet new people, how to appreciate someone else’s space, and what kind of conversations to start with. Even the boys not studying isiZulu at school, learnt how to greet in the local language.

We made it mandatory to kick off the project by visiting the classes at KVPS. Although we visited in April during our school’s holidays, the government schools were in session. The boys divided themselves up, so that there was one visitor per class. They were there to assist the teacher. During the KVPS
lunch break, our boys shared their lunches and played games with the host students. The boys could see that because of the student numbers of close to 1 500 children, there was limited space for all of them to play, and the sports facilities were run down and not well maintained.

We made it mandatory to kick off the project by visiting the classes at KVPS. Although we visited in April during our school’s holidays, the government schools were in session. The boys divided themselves up, so that there was one visitor per class. They were there to assist the teacher. During the KVPS
lunch break, our boys shared their lunches and played games with the host students. The boys could see that because of the student numbers of close to 1 500 children, there was limited space for all of them to play, and the sports facilities were run down and not well maintained.

Nevertheless, the line painting continued. The volunteers also repainted the hopscotch area, which was immediately put to use as it dried, with many KVPS kids skipping.

Preparing and refurbishing the library area

Preparing the library space came first. When the building was constructed by government, a big room with shelves was allocated as a library space, but remained empty, apart from some shelves. The room was full of dust and needed cleaning and repainting to give it warmth and freshness. This was all done on the first day, and by the second day, the boys’ creative spirits were wide awake as they decided for themselves who would do what, depending on their artistic abilities. What the boys came up with at the end of the day was a sight to behold! It was an inviting space, with
beautiful and bold colours turning the room into a treasured space in the school. On the fourth day, after the paint had dried, books were stacked on
shelves.

Each of the volunteers had been asked to donate some books to the refurbished library. One of the boys had received a donation of 100 books from a bookshop, and we also found some unutilised books in the KVPS storeroom. These, together with the donations that we received from the other volunteers, were arranged neatly on the bookshelves to create a happy reading space. The books were arranged on shelves in such a
way that they could be accessed by age, subject and theme, and this required learning new sets of skills and knowledge on the part of the volunteers.

The big reveal

Friendships that were made during this service project have endured. Our volunteers were under pressure to complete their tasks. They got really tired while working long hours, leaving home at 07:30 to catch their bus transport at school at 08:00, arriving in Soweto at 09:00 and working till 14:30, only to drive back on the bus for an hour and arrive home after 16:00. They therefore really got to know each other, learnt to care for
each other, and to work together under pressure. We also invited some of the KVPS learners to work with us on the painting and clearing of the netball courts, hence forming new relationships with them.

On the final day, the St Stithians formally donated the new library space to KVPS. There were thank-you speeches from both parties. The volunteers explained their cataloguing system, which now allows for two classes to use the library at the same time. The St Stithians team also washed the old carpets and laid them down with cushions for the children to use when reading in the new space. The playgrounds were fully operational when the volunteers left, amidst promises of future friendly sports matches.

What did the St Stithians boys learn?

The first lesson for St Sthians was that we had a group of 16 transformed boys. They loved their new friends in Soweto and promised to go back. They spent time with each other making lasting friendships. They played with younger children, sang with them, share lunches and became ‘big brothers’. They learnt how to collaborate with strangers in new spaces and how to
greet elders in isiZulu. They also learnt that they are privileged, but not superior, and that they can be happy with only a little (you can get a whole meal of kota – a local delicacy – for only R15!). They also gained an awareness that the KVPS children could now play sports because of their collaboration.

The St Stithians boys learnt new skills: they learnt how to design a library, how to paint walls and how to stack books. They learnt how to delegate duties among themselves. They learnt how to meet deadlines, how to utilise resources and how to manage their time. They led by example when they
introduced a new culture of reading to the host school. Even more importantly, each St Stithians boy benefited from building character. Reflection sheets from the boys showed that they were able to tick off what they had discovered: inquisitiveness, tenacity, courage, compassion, inventiveness, the ability to solve problems, self-awareness, responsibility,
appreciation of diversity, a commitment to sustainability, communication and team-working skills – all in just one week. Moreover, the memories they hold will be with them for a lifetime.

References:

See: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+5%3A22
&version=NIV;KJV

See: https://www.roundsquare.org/articles/the-round-square-discoveryframework- a-trojan-horse/

Category: Summer 2019

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