The story of Lucas Baloyi and HeronBridge College

| August 22, 2018 | 0 Comments

By JOHN-PAUL LUBBE

One of the joys of independent education is its ability to respond with speed and precision to the needs of the community in which it is based.

HeronBridge College is a young school on the outskirts of the fastest-growing suburbs in the country – Fourways, Johannesburg, in Gauteng. It is a suburb in which one finds an affluent and diverse group of established and establishing young, professional families who have found success in many of the new fields of the South African economy. “Fourwaysians” are by nature progressive, well-read and have a high level of expectation. Racially, Fourways is an area that accurately reflects the demographics of a new middle and upper class in South Africa.

Reflections on diversity

If HeronBridge College was to respond with precision to the needs of a community, our school would need to be progressive, well-informed, deliver at a high level and, importantly, reflect the demographics of our community. That is, we would not want to offer an African language as a token subject, but would want to address genuine diversity and show authentic transformation of lives and mindsets. As a school which believes that God created us all just the way that He wanted to and that He loves us all equally, we felt that we should be leading the charge in this field. The issues, however, that faced us were the same as those that face many independent schools in South Africa:
• financial ability to introduce a genuine African language and therefore culture into our school
• buy-in from an expectant parent body
• adequately capable candidates
• an ability to retain the candidates on whom we had spent vast amounts of time and money.

However, this was not just a need to respond to a demand but also a realisation that, in the same way that schools are overhauling their syllabi with a need to introduce greater elements of visible thinking and greater exposure to technology, so we need to expose our children to all things truly South African. Our children need to understand that we don’t all look the same or speak the same, and yet that we are all still of equal value. Our children (at the appropriate age) need to understand, from a balanced set of perspectives, the journey that our nation has walked. These are lessons that make South Africa the rich country that it is; these are issues that we need to teach our children about, and we need to do so with care, wisdom and authenticity.

HeronBridge responds to the challenge 

Very little of what I have written is new to the minds of this publication’s readership. As a young school, we had to think creatively about the how to address this challenge. If we wanted to really transform minds, we could start by transforming teachers. While we as a school wrestled with this challenge, a relationship was beginning to develop between a young security guard and a teacher at our school. The security guard would stand watch over a residential housing complex in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, and when he had a moment of free time on his hands, he would turn his attention to the BEd degree he had begun through Unisa.1 He had been raised and educated in Hammanskraal, a small town in northern Gauteng, and was funding this degree himself. Lucas Baloyi had decided that he wanted more from life, and realised that he was the only one who could effect this change. He decided to study to be a teacher – not only to change his life, but hopefully the lives of many other young South Africans growing up in this country.  Over the course of the next few months, the relationship between the HeronBridge teacher and the security guard grew. The teacher eventually approached our school with a proposal.
What if:
• instead of always employing experienced teachers, we used our established, instituted intern programme to train aspirant teachers such as Lucas Baloyi, the security guard?
• our parent body could join us on our journey of diversifying our offering?
• we changed our mindset to see the success of this programme being highquality black teachers for our nation instead of just for our school, and therefore not be too concerned if they were lured away by other, wealthier schools?

The following year, Lucas Baloyi and one of our other young interns launched our new HeronBridge isiZulu conversational class programme. The intention of this newly developed venture was to expose our children to a new and vibrant culture and language, and to develop this driven young man and his fellow intern into all that they could be. The key to this programme was the marrying of these young trainee teachers’ expertise – i.e. speaking isiZulu – with the expertise of our current teacher body. The development of a syllabus, with the help of a neighbouring school that already had an established isiZulu programme, allowed us to gain momentum, because the experts in each field were able to play to their strengths.

A whole school success story

A year down the line, we have an isiZulu offering in grades 1, 2 and 3 and a young teacher about to be qualified, and are genuinely ready to roll out this programme into our senior phase. Furthermore, a structure has been put in place that allows us to identify other young black teachers and aspirant teachers, and place them on the same track to transforming their lives and educational experience into one that will impact the diversity of our community and the strength of our nation. However, the true test to see whether or not real transformation has taken place is to evaluate the impact our programme has made on those involved. Recently, an article written by one of our pupils was printed in our local community newspaper. In it, one reads of an expanded perspective of a child and the changed life path of a young teacher.

An interview with Lucas Baloyi – by Jessica Biesman-Simons (Grade 7)

“I often see Mr Baloyi around the library. I greet him every morning as I see him working on the computers and have often wondered how he came to work at HeronBridge. One day I decided to sit down and speak to him about it – what an amazing story! “Mr Baloyi was born in Hammanskraal, a small town north of Pretoria. He attended primary and high school in Hammanskraal, matriculating in 2008. Already as a child, he had realised that as much as life has challenges, which can be difficult to overcome and can distract you, you need to be focused on where you want to go and set out plans to get there. Mr Baloyi would have loved to study further but simply did not have the monetary resources to do so. He stayed at home, eventually finding work in the construction industry. This led him to being able to save a bit of money to pay for a course in becoming a security guard, which, in turn, allowed him to get a job in Johannesburg as a security guard at a complex near Northgate shopping centre. “God seemed to have a plan for him, as it was there that he met and befriended people who would be instrumental in helping him further. It was in 2013, while sitting for hours manning the gates of the complex, that he first started studying though Unisa towards his teaching degree. While struggling with a particularly difficult module, he heard from one of the domestic servants in the complex that she worked for a teacher. He approached the teacher, who gladly assisted him with that module and with other aspects of his studies over the next few years. The man was working at HeronBridge College, where they had decided to introduce isiZulu to the younger grades. He approached Mr Baloyi with a view to his taking on a teaching role in this subject area.

“The key to this programme was the marrying of these young trainee teachers’ expertise – i.e. speaking isiZulu – with the expertise of our current teacher body.”

“After a successful interview, in 2017, he was offered an internship position at HeronBridge. This meant that his studies would be sponsored by the school and that he would be able to work and study there. An added bonus was the loads of teachers always ready to assist him. “Another remarkable moment in his life was winning a competition on Radio 2000, where he was voted as the most promising young student after he had to submit an essay on the state of education in the country. He received a monetary award towards his studies and life expenses. Some of this was carefully invested in property. “Now, he has a wonderful job which he loves, teaching isiZulu to younger kids. He will complete his teaching degree at the end of 2018, has a lovely home and most importantly access to Wi-Fi at work – so, no more trips to fast-food outlets for the free Wi-Fi to complete assignments. Mr Baloyi certainly showed me what being focused, working hard and having wonderful people come into your life can do in achieving your goals.”

John-Paul Lubbe is the principal of the preparatory phase at HeronBridge College.

Reference:
1. See: http://www.unisa.ac.za/static/corporate_web/Content/About/Service%20departments/DCCD/Documents/career_education_2018_unisa.pdf

Category: Winter 2018

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