Columba Values Help to Create New School Culture at Glendale

Posted / 06 December 2015


It’s hard to imagine trying to concentrate in a classroom where nearly half of your peers are high but that’s exactly what the learners at Manyano High School in Khayelitsha experience on a daily basis. In fact, there’s a man selling dagga across the street from the school, and the threat of gangsterism metaphorically beats down on the school gates daily. Despite these circumstances, the Columba graduates are committed to making a difference in their school and community, guided by the Columba values of Awareness, Focus, Integrity, Creativity, Perseverance and Service.

The classes range from 30-50 learners and according to the Columba graduates, the majority are high on marijuana in class. Since the Academy, the Columba graduates have become the exceptions to what has sadly developed into the norm at Manyano High School. 

“We can’t do that, we are the leaders. We set an example. We would be putting our reputation, our very good reputation, at stake,” says the group collectively. The Columba value of Integrity is extremely important to these learners. “We’ve tried very hard not to go astray from our values,” says Sisonke Baby Mborane, Grade 11 learner and Columba graduate.

Before attending the Columba Academy, these learners were glassy-eyed and lethargic. Now, they are bright-eyed and passionate about their school, community and future!

Many challenges in the community

The school and community at large face many challenges, including poverty, unemployment and a high crime rate. “There are so many issues. The issues of learners being abused by relatives – emotionally and sexually, child-headed homes, the rape cases which are too high, the pregnancy issue which is also very high throughout the grades (Grade 8-12), bullying and substance abuse,” says Principal Ms Nokuzola Malgas. 

Gangsterism has also had a profound impact on Manyano High School. “Previously we would have a situation where after school, particularly Fridays, it was very difficult for the learners to leave the school premises based on the fact that there were in-fights happening around, especially outside the school premises, where we would have to call the police before we could even open the gate,” she says. Last year, they lost four learners due to gang violence. “It was very difficult to manage the situation and we didn’t have any option but to pray and hope that the situation would get better,” says Ms Malgas. Police, educators and NGOs involved in the school like Lifeline spent this time engaging with the learners and talking about the issue of gangsterism.

The painful part, says Ms Malgas, was learning that nothing could be done to improve the safety at the school as the local police resources were already overstretched. “Unfortunately we had to Before attending the Columba Academy, these learners were glassy-eyed and lethargic. Now, they are bright-eyed and passionate about their school, community and future! learn that it was part of the package and then how best can we capacitate ourselves so that we can deal with the issue better,” she says. “I believe that if it were not for this Columba intervention, more damage would be done,” comments Deputy Principal Mr Mthobeli Payi. To date, there have been no more significant acts of violence on the gang battlefields in Kayelitsha involving learners from Manyano High School.

Building leadership at Manyano

The first group of 12 Grade 10 learners, along with the principal, deputy and one value champion educator attended the Columba Leadership Academy in 2013, funded by Internet Solutions. It was a life-changing week for all of them. 

Ms Malgas thoroughly enjoyed the Academy and the opportunity to bond with the learners. “You know at times, we underestimate the greatness that is within our learners but it is during such times that you can see that they are different, unique individuals who are capable of greater things.” She says that she gained a lot from the Academy and has been able to develop herself further as a leader within the school environment. “Sometimes we might take for granted the relationship and friendship that we can build that will make them think and do things better, and also feel a sense of ownership to the school,” she adds. 

Ms Malgas does admit that as the principal, she is extremely busy and unable to commit as much time as she might like to the Columba group. That being said, she has made sure that the basic group structure (chairman, secretary, treasurer etc.) and regular meetings are in place. She also wholeheartedly supports every project that the group pursues. 

After hearing about the Academy and seeing the confident learners present the Columba values to the rest of the school, the other educators became very interested in the group’s activities and soon noticed the learners’ improvements in their academic performance and general behaviour.

Hope for the future despite their circumstances

Some of these learners believe they would always have stayed on the right path, whether they had attended the Columba Academy or not. However, many of them credit the Academy for changing them for the better. Mr Payi says that some of the Columba graduates were involved in gang activity but after attending the Academy, they have been the ones to spearhead awareness campaigns on the dangers of getting involved in gangsterism and discipline other wayward learners. 

“At lesson times, I used to go around school, bunk class, go out, look around and go to other classes to distract, or distract others inside the class,” confesses Sisonke. Other learners admit to pretending to be sick in class in order to sleep on their desks. The Columba value of Focus has taught them to remain in class and concentrate on their schoolwork instead. Believing in their future is pivotal. 

The graduates call themselves the Baobab Trees and have settled deep roots into the Manyano school community. “We are aware that there would be a lot of stuff that will bring us down, to devastate our group – many bad things, many negative things that might drive us apart,” explains Sisonke, “but like a baobab tree, strong winds bring it down but it doesn’t get destroyed – it continues to grow. A baobab tree is our role model, our pillar of strength, it keeps us going!” The group has started a number of projects at Manyano, including a regular clean-up campaign with younger learners. “A clean environment is a proper environment for learning to take place,” says Sisonke. “The school shows who we are so if the school is dirty it shows how we are, it portrays our self-image,” says Akhona Mbotina, Grade 11 learner and Columba graduate. Mr Payi says that the learners have shown consistency and discipline in the way they have applied themselves to various tasks and their own schoolwork since coming back from the Academy. “When we started, some of them were failing in their subjects but all of them they are passing and they are doing well,” says Mr Payi.

Many of them were part of Grade 10G, a class that was “chaotic and hopeless” with most learners failing, he says. After the Academy, the graduates began to concentrate in class and try harder in their school work, encouraging their classmates to do the same. By the end of the year, Grade 10G experienced a pass rate of 97%, an achievement of which class teacher, Mrs Mafumana, is very proud. Mr Payi says that the list of top 40 performing learners in the school is now dominated by the Columba graduates. “That gives us hope that in Grade 12 they are going to be excellent learners!” 

The Baobab Trees have also implemented a peer tutoring programme. “They are assisting those that are slow and they assist each other. They have managed to pull up those learners who were performing below par,” explains Mr Payi. Last year, when the group was in Grade 10, the average pass rate in Mathematics was 66-67%. It has risen to 72-73% in Grade 11 as a result of the peer tutoring programme. This has made the learners they are tutoring believe that they can do even better if they persevere. They also assisted the Grade 9s in their Maths preparations for the Annual National Assessment (ANAs) during lunch breaks and after school.

Creatively they persevere

The Baobab Trees have had their fair share of challenges. The group’s major project was to start a school magazine, which has not yet materialised. The learners, however, are confident that they will get the first edition completed. They have started writing the articles about various topics such as school functions, the Columba Academy, sports events and initiatives like the school feeding programme, which has been boosted by a food garden created by the Columba group. They have divided themselves up into journalists, editors and typists to ensure a smooth process. They will soon be writing letters to local businesses to ask for financial support for the printing of the magazine. The school magazine will help to publicise learners’ achievements. “We have many things happening in school, good things, but we don’t recognise them,” says Yolanda Ngwilikane, Grade 11 learner and Columba graduate. It will also act as a prospectus for future learners. 

Not wanting to rely solely on outside donations, they have also thought of a very creative way to raise funds for their magazine project. They are going to start charging learners R1 for every day that they arrive late for school, thus killing two birds with one stone: Disciplining tardy learners and raising funds for the magazine. 

The Columba values underpin all that the Baobab Trees do. “They are very clear about the values of Columba and they are trying to practise those values,” says Mr Payi. They lead by example, showing the learners an alternative to arriving at school high, bunking classes and getting involved with gangs. To Akhona, part of being a leader is personal awareness. “Being a leader is not an easy job, you must be focused and know what you want to achieve. Don’t listen to people who are saying negative things,” he says. “When people are saying negative things about you, you need to not let them judge you. You need to trust your instincts and do what you do best,” adds Sihle Nuhashe, Grade 11 learner and Columba graduate. 

Sisonke says that being a leader is important because you can provide the steps that others should follow to get where they want in life. “Having people look up to you is a great thing because it keeps you motivated as a person,” she adds. 

“With this first group of learners, I am sure they are going to be excellent ambassadors of the school,” says Mr Payi. The Columba graduates have big dreams for themselves – to become doctors, chartered accountants, IT experts and geologists. 

“We will be looking for them in leadership in tertiary and also in the national politics of the day – we want them to influence the course of history!

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