- a person viewed as a model of excellence.
It was Thulile Mkhwazeni who decided on the name ‘Paragon’ for our gap year tutors who help with our Senior School study groups. Sometimes, in schools such as the ones in which we work, it is easy to think of excellence as ‘unrealistic’ or ‘unattainable’, but Thulile believed in excellence, and that he and his peers were capable of it. He was part of our Axium Senior Schools programme and matriculated from Seaview High School in 2014. His plan for 2015 was to be a part of the first cohort of Paragons. Sadly, Thulile passed away in late January 2015. His memory lives on at Axium in the young Paragons who are models of excellence for our high school learners.
If anyone embodied Thulile’s spirit in 2019 it was Vuyisani Fetumani.
Vuyisani or Vuvu (as he is affectionately known) was a learner in our Senior Schools programme from 2016-2018 and finished matric with the best marks out of all of his peers at Seaview High School. Unfortunately the ID number printed on his Matric Certificate was not his real ID number and this small printing error cost Vuyisani access to any form of bursary or NSFAS funding. As a result Vuyisani began 2019 with the real possibility of having to wait the whole year to re-apply with an amended matric certificate.
Thankfully in January 2019 Vuyisani joined the gap year programme with Sihamaba Sonke (a neighbouring NGO to Axium) and so he was available to work as a Paragon in the afternoons. Taking Vuyisani on was an easy decision: he brought all his energy and enthusiasm that we remembered him having as a learner into his work as a Paragon. It was truly a pleasure to work with him.
During their gap year program, the Paragons travel each afternoon to a different high school to lead the English, Maths and Physical Science Study Groups. The focus is on developing a culture of excellence by working together and solving problems as a team. As Vuyisani put it: “We have to give them the opportunity to work by themselves. In class they are taught too much and they do not work through examples. We bring examples and past papers for them to work through together.”
Vuyisani’s work as a Paragon for matric Maths classes stands him in good stead as he heads off to University next year. His first choice of study is Pharmacy at Rhodes University. But his experience in the classroom has left its mark as he admitted that he has also applied for a BEd through UNISA should his first choice fall through.
Teaching learners who are only a year younger than you is not without its challenges. Vuyisani recalls: “My biggest struggle has been getting to schools and finding students who are not focused and not listening to me. I overcame this difficulty by enforcing the rules of Axium. I told them that ‘this is about them not me’, I explained that I was not forcing them to be there - I was just helping them. It is their choice. I got better at managing the class as the year went on.” He also struggled initially at his former school where he found that the learners didn’t quite afford him the respect that he needed. “The students treated me like their friend. As time went on they realised that I was there to help and I began to feel more comfortable and respected by the students.”
Vuyisani expressed his gratitude at the experience of working for Axium: “The best part has been all the learning. If I was just staying at home I wouldn’t have the same skills of being in a work environment. Work experience is so important.”
All we can say is that the pleasure was all ours, and we cannot wait to for Vuyisani to return to Axium, a triumphant graduate. Thulile would have been proud of Vuyisani’s contribution to the name Paragon, and the model of excellence which he set.