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The brightest star of all: Southern Cross Schools

| August 19, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Dianne Tipping-Woods

Responding to the bush lore teacher’s raised hand, the group of school children stop.

He has spotted something on the other side of the Osprey Dam. He signals for them to gather around him. His urgent whisper has an immediate effect on the group as they balance their excitement with the need to move slowly and quietly.

The wild dog is sleeping in the shade of a red bush willow. Along with the six other animals in its pack, it has killed an impala. There is hardly anything left of the carcass and it is only after scanning the opposite bank with binoculars that the children can pick out a few bones and a set of horns close to the muddy shallows.

After a few minutes, the teacher signals for the children to move back towards the school building. They excitedly gather under a marula tree. It’s time to discuss what they have seen in the time that remains in bush lore; a special subject that teaches pupils at Southern Cross Schools about the extraordinary environment – a large nature reserve – that is part of their campus.

Integrating nature and the classroom

Later, when the dogs have moved off, the pupils will re-visit the spot with their science teacher to observe the natural process of decay they have been learning about in the classroom. Suitably equipped and under careful supervision, they will also collect some water samples from the dam close to where the carcass is lying, to analyse in the laboratory in an exercise that brings the worlds of nature and science vividly to life. Their English teacher may also reference the kill: this week’s poetry theme is the transience of life. And in art class, they may paint or sketch the impala’s horns as part of learning to master a ‘still life’.

“Had Southern Cross Schools been around when my children were of school-going age, I would have sent them here. And had it been around when I was young, I too would have wanted to be at this school,” says Ant de Boer, headmaster.

Endless opportunities

An English medium co-educational day and boarding school, Southern Cross is uniquely located within the Kruger to Canyon Biosphere, not far from the Orpen gate of the Kruger National Park, It offer pre-primary, primary and secondary education all the way to Grade 12, with boarding an option from Grade 6 upwards. From small beginnings, the school has grown in just over 10 years into a vibrant, stimulating home to learners from 17 countries across the world.

The school’s location within a wildlife sanctuary offers many opportunities for active, hands-on learning. If it’s not a wild dog kill, it’s something just as memorable: there are so many things to learn and observe in the bush. “As educators, we are privileged to be able to create and implement teaching and learning strategies for learners of all ages that are effective, innovative and fun; using the beautiful natural environment that surrounds the school as an extension of our classrooms,” says de Boer.

Harmony at Southern Cross

At break-time, there is a nyala contentedly resting outside the Grade 2 classroom, while various hornbill species call and swoop down onto the school grounds. The thatched roofs and the circular, organic design of the school buildings create a natural sense of flow and harmony. In the preparatory playground, boys play in the cricket nets, two girls sit reading in a tree while others shriek and play elsewhere.

In the college, break-time is often a little quieter: today the Crux leaders (the school’s student leadership body) plans how to celebrate Women’s Day and involve the school in raising awareness about women’s rights. The recycling committee talks about the progress they’ve made with the new recycling bins at the school and plan for the next town clean-up. Small groups of young adults chat; a few study for a French test they have later in the day.

Reaching the large and the small “I find that the students here respond better in terms of their learning, as a result of the environment in which the school is set,” says Greg Gibbs, a member of the college management team. “It’s been rejuvenating to come here as a teacher from a big city. Our learners actually enjoy coming to school each day.

For a teachers, that’s refreshing and immensely rewarding,” says Gibbs.

His comments are echoed by a number of the school’s staff members and it’s easy to see why. The headmaster of the preparatory school has just returned from an excursion with the environmental club. He has a tale to tell: the pupils were actively involved with the darting and treatment of a rhino cow earlier in the day. After watching the rhino go down, they helped the local vet to roll her over and watched as he treated her injured leg. “Some of the children even had the opportunity to help Dr Rogers inject her. I don’t know of another school where there are routinely opportunities such as this,” ends the account.

Students get excited

At lunch-time the children get a turn to talk about how they feel about the school. “I love that we’re based in this nature reserve. We can go outside during most of our lessons and interact with the environment we’re learning about,” says matric student Virginia Mohlala, who also believes that the school is simultaneously preparing her well for the “big world” out there.

“I like it a lot,” says another learner. And, “Here, everyone is friends and they care for each other,” says Matthew Blair, a Grade 6 pupil. His classmate chimes in: “I want to be a vet. Our teacher has brought in genets and snakes and learning about them and touching them makes we want to care for them.” Even the tiny pre-school tots are full of stories of what they have learned and the animals they have seen.

Profound connections

While the school is in a safe and sheltered environment, Southern Cross cares about its community too. “As fantastic as our location is in Hoedspruit, it’s really important for our learners to understand that they are part of a bigger community and ultimately to realise just how privileged they are to be in a school like this,” says de Boer, explaining that the school’s Reach-A-Cross programme is designed to share resources with other less fortunate institutions.

“Not only do we want to produce confident, innovative, highly-skilled individuals, we want every child to develop an appreciation of the importance of sustainability and a social and environmental conscience that will stay with them forever, regardless of their chosen career path,” says de Boer.

As the lowveld sun sets, a hamerkop flies over the wetland that the school has developed. Frogs and crickets call as the boarders head for dinner and the bush gets ready for nighttime.

“You couldn’t ask for a better place for children to grow up. I think back to the days and the phrase “when kids were kids”. That’s still a reality here,” remarks a teacher.


Category: Spring 2014

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