To infinity and beyond for Muizenberg High

Leonie Jacobsen, Principal of Muizenberg High School, talks about history, stars and the role of education. This year, the school celebrates its 120th anniversary.

Stars are born in the midst of chaos. After years of transformation, the newborn star eventually takes its rightful place in the universe, to be seen, studied, positioned, named and written about.

The question in education is always, if the curriculum can be delivered amidst chaos, can a school be relevant for the needs of the community it serves? Can it transform itself to produce independent citizens who will make a difference in the world, who will contribute to new ideas and innovations?

Allow me to walk through the foundation years of this school’s history to test the relevance of our institution; and to measure its sustainable contribution to society.

In 1898 Muizenberg experienced its own chaos: the extensions to the railway line brought trade and families and, in 1898, Reverend Richard Vyvyan opened the first private school, which shortly after turned into a public school in Muizenberg.

Meanwhile, chaos in the north created a migration to Muizenberg.

In 1899 it took the shape of the South African war; families fled to Muizenberg, and the need for a bigger school arose.

Through the years, until 1912, the school went from a temporary arrangement to the brick building in Albertyn Road.

With the new building, the numbers of admission grew to 151, and the growing Jewish community asked to use the building for Hebrew classes.

Muizenberg transformed in the 1920s from a small fishing village to a popular seaside resort and, along with this, the school changed too. In 1935, it was declared a high school.

By now, the school had 217 students, and the school was in desperate need of more space. But the world was on the brink of World War II.

The principal then, Bill Andrews, created systems and out- of-the-box ideas for punishment. For instance, he would dish out boxing gloves to the fighters, and they had to fight it out. And he launched a competition for the design of the school badge, in 1926.

What is more, he wrote the words to the school song. He then already understood the value of a holistic education and introduced extra-mural activities: swimming, cricket, cadets and shooting.

The 1930s posed the challenge of overcrowded classrooms, no hall or library, or even a staffroom. By now, the enrolment was on the 350 mark, and for the first time, the school attracted pupils from outside the borders of Muizenberg.

The war took its toll, and out of the 200 past pupils who enlisted in the Union Forces, 18 did not return.

The high school pupils became innovative and published the first school magazine.

A year before the war ended in 1944, the first tuck shop was established, and the first matric ball was held.

In 1946, the first representative council learners (RCL) was born, and because of them, the school blazer was initiated.

In 1948 the school had its first tour, no less than a rugby tour to Clanwilliam, not far from our annual Lutzville tour.

The new principal was a Mr Gordon, and in 1951 he introduced new subjects, one being what we call hospitality.

He introduced inter-house competitions and changed the school song. Shortly after the war, demographics changed and had a huge effect on the school.

New schools opened and drew pupils away from MHS. The school had no sports field and the buildings were old.

In the 1970s, the school lost considerable numbers of students, but after huge efforts and with the dedication of the school board, our beautiful new school opened its doors in 1977.

The school offered evening parent education classes, and started participating in the eisteddfodds and became known for excellence in education.

Don Gibbon became the principal in 1986. Inter-house plays, basketball, fashion shows, photography club and interact, jazz and soccer were introduced.

Towards the end of 1990, with apartheid at death’s door, the parents voted with an 80% majority to open the doors to a non-racial admission policy. Here the school took the lead and was ahead of the wave.

Dave Shaw became the principal in January 1999. He continued, encouraged, and grew these strong and established traditions. He insisted and saw the value of the focus on the holistic education of children, giving children safety to learn and to ensure that we get the basics right.

He established and supported the school’s ethos based on values, teaching the vision and mission of the school with passion.

His 17-year leadership resulted in the introduction of hospitality studies, tourism and business studies in the curriculum.

The Afritwin programme was launched, which resulted in many staff members and six of our pupils visiting international schools. The school links our pupils to the world and we are affirmed internationally for our inclusivity and our unique approach to diversity. Our past pupils are testimony to this approach: Peter Links received his Masters at Oxford University and debated in the Oxford hall, and Darren English was the youngest visiting professor in trumpet in America and won the Global Peace Song Award.

We continue to seek innovative ways to stay ahead of the waves of change, but our school’s ethos and values have never changed. They remain relevant. This is known as the small school with the big heart. We are moving away from an ex-model C school system to a globally competitive entrepreneurial educational model. Our international exchange student programme is extended to include the training of international student teachers. We have moved with full force into e-learning training, to empower and to grow our staff. For me, the analogy of the current times and the chaos and strikes and violence in society is no different to the chaos and dust and heat explosions of the birth of a new star. All the chaos has to be pulled together through the school, and society, until it forms a star. In this time, our school and our society is birthing new stars.