Shaping confident, thinking individuals

Looking forward, principal of Muizenberg Junior High, Vernon Erfort.

Muizenberg Junior School principal Vernon Erfort says community is much more than just a geographic area.

To him, community is expressed in inclusivity – in acceptance of a diverse mix of people which is not limited to race.

“Looking at people as diverse just in racial terms is taking the narrow view,” he says.

“We acknowledge that all children are different. This holds its own challenges because we have to deal with very difficult cases; some children struggle with their school work, and we have to formulate ways to bring them on board -that’s being inclusive.

“We have to acknowledge different personalities, different learning styles, and we try to accommodate that in our school.”

He wants Muizenberg Junior to be known as an “all of us” school, where children are happy, but, most importantly, can work towards becoming the best person they can be.

To that end, the school’s theme this year is, “We are all each other’s teachers”.

It came about after a child at the school made this remark to his teacher, who was moved by the insight.

Mr Erfort says the 120-year-old school’s objective is to create lifelong learners. Muizenberg Junior and High schools were once one school, which was established in 1898. It was only in October 1948 that the two schools officially split.

From its humble beginnings, with a mere 40 pupils in an iron and wood shack, the school today is negotiating how best to make use of its swimming pool and having to stagger break times for its 500 pupils.

Although it was private funding that launched the little school 120 years ago, today the junior school is public, and open to children from areas way beyond the physical borders of Muizenberg.

The school has come a long way from when it only had two classrooms, a latrine and teacher’s room, which were described as bitterly cold in winter and unbearably hot in summer.

In a school magazine celebrating the schools’ centenary, 20 years ago, Zena Gale wrote that in the 1920s, on very hot days, the school closed at 10am, but that in winter, the Afrikaans teacher used to wrap newspaper around her legs, as it was so cold and wet.

Today’s challenges are less about the weather and more about weathering the holistic needs of the pupils.

Mr Erfort is not interested in producing cookie-cutter children; he says he wants to shape thinking individuals who will grow up with critical-thinking skills and the mindset and the confidence to thrive in the world. He says he seeks partnerships with people or organisations who can show his children the practical application of what they are learning, or can help with sports and extra-mural activities, such as a vegetable garden tended by the pupils.

Mr Erfort says children work-
ing in the “outdoor classroom”
will see science and biology come to life as they plant, grow and harvest the food they will eventually eat. It’s this sort of holistic learning, built on strong community partnerships, that he hopes will sow the seeds for the next 120 years of the school’s growth.