When Tyrah Levendall starts school at the Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls next year, she will be lighting the way for the whole of Ocean View.
The13-year-old’smother, Althea Levendall, said if she had known how many applicants there would be for this position, she would not even have bothered trying.
And in that, she says, is a lesson for Ocean View and its youth – to try anyway, despite the odds – because there is a success story brewing, straight from their streets and suburb.
Ms Levendall said her sister applied on behalf of Tyrah, with her blessing.
“It is really my sister, Theresa Thys, and the school who did all the work: Tyrah takes after her aunty Theresa and her aunty always makes the time to read to her. And look now,” she says.
Her pride is well placed, because the selection process to attend the Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls is stringent.
It includes house visits to ensure that the applicants are within the economic sphere they claim (instead of having mansions and four garages, Ms Levendall laughs) and four stages of examinations from science and maths to general knowledge.
Beyond the academic criteria, there is also a strong preference for young girls who show a keen interest in the world, have good general knowledge and display leadership skills.
The search was for balanced, well rounded individuals ready to take their dreams to the next level.
“We had the call to say she had made the first cut and the very next day a registered letter arrived and my doubts vanished as I held the letter,” said Ms Levendall.
At the first exam at the River Club in Observatory, all the anxious parents were told to wait outside while their girls wrote.
Sixty-five places were open, and thousands of applicants set their hearts on the chance to go and study at the academy.
Ocean View’s Tyrah made it through round one.
For round two she was flown up to Johannesburg. She aced that section, and then made it through round three. Then the call came that changed her life.
While the disbelief and excitement are still palpable for the Levendall family, the strange reality that their little girl is going to leave home and live in Johannesburg for the duration of her high school life, is now dawning.
“She is just so excited. Her two older brothers are so supportive and thrilled for her – as are we. “It’s just a lot for us to think about; her dad is feeling it quite a bit, but, honestly, this is the most amazing opportunity for her – and living at the school is part of that. We as parents and her family must allow her this chance to grow and dream and become all she can be,” said Ms Levendall.
Fuad Jacobs is principal of Kleinberg Primary. He has known the Levendall family a long time.
“I have been teaching Tyrah for the last two years. She is a real unique learner who excels despite the challenges she faces, living in Ocean View. She loves reading and is very intuitive.”
Mr Jacobs described Tyrah as not only hard working but also intelligent.
“She consistently makes the top three of her grade. She is a natural leader and always lends a helping hand. Her classmates find her to be trustworthy and dependable. Her strong character and confidence are evident in her actions, as she does not need any motivation to succeed,” he said.
Mr Jacobs said Tyrah has true problem-solving abilities which he describes as a rare gem that teachers love.
“One of her strongest attributes is the fact that she doesn’t shy away from challenges but seizes opportunities,” he said.
Outside of school, Tyrah is a youth leader at church and gives motivational speeches. She loves the outdoors, often goes on hikes and cares deeply for the environment.
“Tyrah is a real inspiration not only to her peers, but to all who she comes in contact with,” Mr Jacobs said.