Stellenzicht Secondary School Reading Project
There is an African saying that states "It takes a village to raise a child". Or, in the case of Jamestown just outside of Stellenbosch, the community is working together to assist not only one child but a lot of children from a local school. This help is focused on a single aspect namely reading and comprehension skills, but with enough external support, it will have far-reaching consequences for Stellenzicht Secondary school learners.

Proud Partners decided to lend just such support in the form of a donation, to better the lives of these children.

Social media, SMS-language and often a lack of proper education, contribute to the drastic decline in basic language skills in learners, where full sentences, spelling and comprehension of language are completely lost. A large percentage of learners in our country start their secondary education with a severe disadvantage - not only in Afrikaans, but in all their subjects.

In 2015, the Friends of Stellenzicht (headed by Dale Simons), headmaster Lester Allies and his staff decided to spare some time for extra Afrikaans reading, comprehension and spelling periods for grades 8 and 9.

  A year later, Alfred Christians, a retired teacher and resident of Jamestown, was appointed to present additional classes and they identified over 60 grade 8’s and 9’s that would require individual attention.

Another Jamestown resident, Ria Engelbrecht, heard of the project and has been involved as a volunteer since May 2016. "To offer one-to-one lessons for more than 60 learners during school hours is an impossible task. Regular follow-up work and monitoring of individual’s progress is essential. Otherwise, it just does not make sense, " says Ria. It took months just to get to know the learners, to try to determine specific problems and to write short reports.

A shortage of teachers and a lack of time has hampered the reading project several times, but Ria and Alfred did not want to give up. They came up with a plan of action for 2017, and in cooperation with the subject staff, selected learners in need of additional help, and set a clear structure in place to establish a disciplined work space. This got the ball rolling and many learners are reaping the benefits of Ria and Alfred's hard work.

Besides reading and comprehension skills, she and Alfred also practice spelling and other language rules in coordination with the current syllabus. They also track the learners' test and examination results and focus on specific problems.

There will always be setbacks, but the success stories make up for it. One such story is that of a Grade 8 boy who failed last year. "I had a strong suspicion that proper reading glasses would make a difference and my biggest goal for 2017 was to make sure that this young man got help," says Ria. "I took a leap of faith, talked to my ophthalmologist and there you go! Not only can he read the text of the textbooks and on the board, but his confidence is back, his handwriting has improved dramatically and, most importantly, he is smiling again. "

Another feather in the cap for the team is that  some of the learners who do not need any more help, insist on continuing with the classes so that their marks can improve. Initial hesitation due to peer pressure and stigmatization made room for increasing pride and enthusiasm, and more and more learners spontaneously report for help. Exciting projects like the brand-new Spelling Competition later this year also attract even more interest among the learners.

There are still several volunteers needed to make this project sustainable and to help even more learners. However, with the help of passionate individuals such as Ria and Alfred, this project is on its way to becoming one of Jamestown's greatest success stories.

Headmaster Mr Lester Allies with some of his pupils
Ria Engelbrecht & Justin Julies
Mnr Alfred Christians & Bradley Moses
Ria Engelbrecht & Luciano Oncke
Ria Engelbrecht & Wildene Arendse
Mnr Alfred Christians teaching his class
The pupils pose with Mnr Alfred Christians, Mnr Lester Allies, and Ria Engelbrecht
Stellenzicht Secondary School in Jamestown, Stellenbosch