“If we build it, will they come?”

| March 29, 2019 | 0 Comments

BY ROGER LOOYEN
Sandhurst Pre-& Preparatory College (hereafter referred to as Sandhurst College), has made an indelible mark on the community of Sandton in Johannesburg, Gauteng, and surrounds for some years.

As is the case with all other small private schools, parental demands, demographic changes and competitive school fees compelled the Sandhurst board of directors to revise their strategy.
Visionary leadership, staff commitment and parental support had to fundamentally spearhead a revived educational landscape. We wanted to create a school propelled by an architectural design that could facilitate forward thinking and innovative curriculum delivery in support of total learner development. The implementation of progressive educational reform within the established school culture necessitated courageous fiscal ignition, reformatory strategic direction and summative assessment of the prevailing ethos that has placed Sandhurst College at the heart-beat of the Johannesburg education community for almost two decades.

A decision to expand the campus
The economic realities and the concomitant impact thereof on private education have been profound. Many other school boards have been propelled to redefine their operation and mandate in accordance with the new realities and community expectations that they serve. It is within this reality that Sandhurst College has had to embark on an intensive re- engineered philosophy to expand its footprint by building additional space where teaching and learning can be celebrated. The question, “If you build it, will they come?” was uppermost on the agenda.

The decision to expand the campus was to facilitate learner growth; to increase our educational offerings and learning experiences in a technology-rich setting; and to make Sandhurst College a school of choice within the private school sector. Contemporary methodologies and digital spaces are merely two of the many issues that today’s parents expect of the education system. This is because schools operate in a complex society that has given flight from local to global opportunity, giving rise to extraordinary expectations that transcend the norms of current educational practice.

Community builders
Jared Bernstein1 maintains that building for expansion is daunting, requiring reflection and forecasting that reconstruct beliefs and theories of knowledge. It was within such a context that Sandhurst College began to unpack and examine the ethos that underpinned all our endeavours. We realised we had to instil in our teachers the need to be community builders through our academic, sporting and cultural activities; and the need to maintain our economic competitiveness. Additionally, the demand to strengthen our value system based on trust, care, commitment, and responsibility to a diversity of learners remained paramount. The design of new architectural infrastructure had to ensure that the curriculum offerings appealed to the learner’s rationality in raising a cosmopolitan awareness of the different value systems within a school community.
The Sandhurst College’s optimism is embedded in the sanctity that all people matter and that there is a moral obligation on all (support staff, administrators, teachers, parents, and learners) to articulate our oneness or ubuntu within the local and international community that we serve. It is thus critical to our school community, that learners are afforded the opportunity to develop allegiance to the school through mentoring, coaching and academic imperatives. The achievement of this finds expression in celebrating difference and similarity in each learner simultaneously, within a local and international context. According to researchers James Rest,Darcia Narvaez, Muriel. J. Bebeau and Stephen J. Thoma, the promotion of cultural universality is a catalyst to school improvement, thus increasing the learner population. The building and design of the new campus encapsulates the assertion that space, view and place contribute to the marketability of the college. Offices and classrooms overlook the beauty of the Sandton skyline with densely populated vegetation. Kenneth Tanner3 argues that the interaction between people and their environments occurs constantly in learning-specific spaces. The new campus design is both for living and learning and the interactions within this space further embeds our belief in family and the building of community underpinned by the universality of learning outcomes.

Creating positive space
Our school now comprises walkways, pathways and corridors encouraging teacher, parent and learner interactions. Clusters of plants and strategically located windows give natural light and provide views that attract sightings of the school from the major arterial route called the William Nicol Highway.

Long sterile corridors set the scene for everything that is bad,3 say today’s specialist school designers. Thus, we set about fostering an inviting sense of community: it provides for positive space in the evolution of the college’s building plans in which prospective parents make conscious and psychological decisions regarding school choice.
Spacious teaching and learning areas are homes to small classes. Research on class size remains inconclusive, however, it is an important choice factor for parents. According to researchers such as Lauri Goldkind and Lawrence Farmer,4 smaller classes provide greater opportunity for parental involvement and support to the school as parents can have a more intimate involvement in school activities and teacher-parent interactions.

Tanner argues that individualised learning programmes coupled with support and enrichment in classrooms specifically designed with views overlooking outside life can enhance both teaching and learning. At Sandhurst we are witnessing increased student enquiry that stimulates the vibrant commitment of parents, administrators and staff and in turn promises increased enrolment.

Aligning architecture with academics
While our student cohort looks set to expand, we agree with Gary Moore and Jeffrey Lackney from the Centre for Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the US,5 who argue that small schools offer students greater opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities and to exercise leadership roles. These authors also contend that participation (both learner and community) in school and school-related social activities, learner satisfaction, are all superior in small schools relative to large schools. Sandhurst College will therefore continue to maintain an ethos that is “pro-social”, in that it stimulates learning outcomes by investing in architectural design.
The question, “If we build it, will they come?” advances the narrative on teaching and learning in that it inspires scaffolding the knowledge and lives of our learners. This belief is embedded in our own reflections of ourselves as educators and our desire to pursue more deeply our understanding of methodology, pedagogy and our humanity in building the lives of ourselves and our learners. “If we build it, will they come?” advances the Sandhurst Pre-& Preparatory College expectation to remain relevant in a complex and evolving society.

Dr Roger Looyen is principal of Sandhurst Pre & Preparatory College in Johannesburg, Gauteng.

References:
1. See: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/ 2013/12/04/72062/the-impact-of-inequality-on-growth/
2. See: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1999-02514-000
3. See: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1086689.pdf
4. See: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/jul/11/education-
school-building-projects
5. See: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1004340
6. See: https://dc.uwm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1031&context
=caupr_mono

Category: Autumn 2019

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