A helping hand to empower our schools

Staff members from Nomzamo High School working in their prefab container staff room. From left, Sisanda Mbana, Joyce Mgada and Zimbini Zengetwa.

In a time of critical need in the education sector during the Covid-19 lockdown, Helderberg-based non-profit company, Strong Schools, is making a tangible difference.

Founded in November 2019 by Caryn Maree, in collaboration with organisational psychologist, Vonnie Mostert, owner of Camino Consulting, and Trudie Schoeman, Strong Schools works with school management and the community, to facilitate sustainable change in government schools.

Ms Maree explains: “A school is an organisation made up of people and systems, but the question is, ‘are the people equipped, trained, resourced and supported to optimally fulfil their roles to lead, to manage, to implement, and to be innovative?’

“That is where we want to step in. We want to bridge the gap between plans and implementation, ideals and realities, dreams and possibilities, now, more than ever before, because time and resources are scarce. People and communities need to be innovative and cooperative.

“All schools face massive challenges, and those with the least resources and support from their stakeholders face the extremes of these challenges: they can’t do what is expected of them, alone.

“We, as a community, surely want our schools to succeed for the sake of the children and the future of our community in the Helderberg,” says Ms Maree.

Strong Schools works with 13 schools in the Helderberg, five high schools and eight primary schools, and its services are even more critical during lockdown, with schooling from home requiring fundamental changes both at school and at home.

The recent decision to return Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils to school on June 1, means that aside from assisting schools with the complex organisational logistics of remote teaching for pupils at home, the government’s strict social distancing policies galvanised Strong Schools into taking care of the sanitisation and mask needs of its 13 partner schools.

Bolander caught up with Ms Maree on Friday afternoon.

“I’m in the car right now, making deliveries of masks to the last two of our five high schools for their Grade 12s.

“We’ve already delivered masks to the other three high schools, and to all eight of our primary schools for their Grade 7s,” Ms Maree says.

“Before it was even confirmed that schools would reopen, we had moved over to making masks for the Grade 7s and Grade 12s. We also supplied each school with inspirational posters, as well as a bottle of hand sanitiser. This takes care of the practicalities of returning to school,” she said.

Funds were donated for masks and women in the community were able to earn an income by making masks, and volunteers also made masks for the cause. R20 000 went towards women earning an income by making masks.

Printing company, Diverso, printed the inspirational posters at a 75% discount, and AfriForum donated 10 litres of hand sanitiser which will be evenly distributed among the 13 schools.

The Strong Schools approach is to create a self-sustaining hub at each school, consisting of the principal, a school governing body representative, a Strong Schools representative – who will represent the community of business and NGOs – a Camino Consulting facilitator, and the Western Cape Education Department circuit manager.

The hub at each school will come up with plans which are appropriate, applicable, and realistic, to address the school’s priorities.

Camino Consulting facilitates the conversations and strategies based on organisational psychology and leadership development, as the aim is to empower the school leadership to lead its own constituency.

“Strong Schools can then take the needs to the community and build a bridge to access resources.

“It is a consolidated effort designed to lessen the burden on the principals, of having to liaise with many different groups who want to help, and also to not fragment efforts,” Ms Maree says.

“What Strong Schools does is offer a hand up, and not a hand out. Our values are in line with creating a sustainable school through organisational and human capital development.

“One of the building blocks for creating a strong school, is an actively involved community of parents, businesses and other organisations. But it has to fit into the school’s own, central strategic plan – we encourage ownership to be taken,” said Ms Maree.

The hub concept will be piloted at two schools – one high school and one primary school – with the intention of rolling it out to the remaining eleven schools in time.

“We’re fortunate that the Rupert Foundation funds the facilitation processes at each of the schools, but we need sponsorship for the two pilot hub coordinators that we plan to appoint soon,” says Ms Maree.

“The hub coordinators play a vital role, engaging with and getting the community at large involved, so that the school’s needs are taken care of.

“For example, putting plans into action if the school needs more masks, coordinating volunteers, or if extra or retired teachers are needed to do extra lessons.”

For more information about Strong Schools, or to offer assistance or sponsorship, contact Caryn Maree on strongschoolsza@gmail.com or 072 304 2045 or visit www.strongschools.co.za