In October this year, it will be 13 years since our first Boot Camp. Those Boot Camps - intense weeks of maths, science and English tuition for high school students - continue, but our offerings have grown immeasurably since then, both in terms of depth and reach. We have come to understand that in order to realise our vision of every rural student leaving school with purpose, agency and options, academic support is inextricably connected to learner wellness. Over the past three years, psychosocial services have become a critical part of how we support learners at our Public School Partnership schools.
We have a social worker working at eight of our schools in Amajingqi, with plans to add another at Zithulele once the PSP site there has grown to include a high school. This programme was birthed from wanting to provide holistic support to our beneficiaries as they were not coping at school. We have close professional relationships with school teachers and parents/guardians of our learners to a point where they send referrals based on what they see of their children. We then follow up with the learner in question in the presence of the requester as most of them are under 18 and thus need a parent/guardian/teacher present.
Nomfundo Kalipha, our social worker, looks further into the reasons why specific learners are not coping, could it be a home situation, triggers in the school environment, etc. Our line of practice is guided by the policies from the Willowvale Department of Social Development. For example, when Nomfundo does her home visits and background checks, she ensures that each matter is treated with high confidentiality and does not stigmatize the specific child.
The biggest challenge faced is that most learners do not have birth certificates due to biological parents leaving the rural areas for the city, and as such children are left behind with their grandparents or guardians. Axium Education thus transports these children together with their guardians to the Department of Home Affairs so they can register for birth certificates and ultimately apply for social grants. Because we work in a rural setting, another big challenge is the limited resources such as rehabilitation centres for issues such as rape cases, substance abuse or safe houses, especially for child-headed households. It is for such reasons we run workshops on the awareness of social welfare and what having a social worker present means in our rural communities.
With that said, we have seen quite a lot of positive changes in our children since implementing the psychosocial programme. Home visits also play a big role as they give us first-hand experiences of how our children live, and enable the building of relationships with the guardians, and as such we are able to establish a good rapport with the children and guardians. Once these relationships are established, we see our children develop so much resiliency and a sense of empowerment to a point where they feel motivated to complete their grade 12 (in record time) and proceed to tertiary education.
We also have room for opportunities wherein we host leadership boot camps for our Representative Council of Learners (RCL) once a year and meet every quarter to engage on issues such as teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, behavioural issues, hygiene, etc. Axium Education also buys school uniforms, school shoes, and provides sanitary towels for a limited group of children whose economic situations don’t allow for these essentials.
“When parents, teachers, students, and others view one another as partners in education, a caring community forms around students and begins its work.” - Epstein, 2010