Educating future leaders

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A day in the life

LEAP Student at work

External Relations Officer, Sabrina Lee, spent a day walking in the shoes of a student at LEAP 1 (Langa). This is her account of a day at LEAP – a day in the life of a Grade 11 student “from the perspective of someone much older (but not wiser).”

On Thursday, 9th February, I decided to spend the day walking in the shoes of a Grade 11 student at LEAP Science and Maths School. I felt it was about time that I really got to know what it’s like to attend the school and understand a little more about the lives of the students. Little did I know how little I knew… and I’m not just talking about the maths and science!

School bus
My day began by waiting for the bus in Langa – the township community which is home to 173 young people who attend LEAP’s first school in Pinelands. Another 180 would be coming on buses/trains and taxis from the townships of Gugulethu and Crossroads on their way to LEAP 2 which shares the same campus. As the bus came to a halt in Washington Road I was swept up in a sea of grey uniforms as laughing, chatting kids hurried to clamber on board. On the bus I met Luazzi who had helped me show a LEAP supporter around the school the previous week. He asked me to check his English assignment – a well-written account of the forced removals from District 6. He told me that he takes the bus because it’s safer than taking a train or a taxi to school – a key consideration for students living in very poor parts of Cape Town.

Life skills
Once at the school I had half an hour to chat with the students (and quickly check my emails) before the first lesson:  life orientation – a major part of the curriculum at LEAP, which focuses not only on achieving academic success, but also on providing young people with the life skills to become leaders and role models in their communities.

I would be following a Grade 11 class for the day:  clearly a bright, confident and sociable group of young people. They didn’t seem at all phased to have me tag along and I already knew this was going to be an interesting day. We piled out of life orientation, where the kids shared with each other their experiences of honesty and openness in their relationships with their class mates, teachers, parents, sibling and friends and quickly rushed to English.

Kamve, who chooses to call herself Katnis (the feisty leading teenage character in her favourite books ‘the Hunger Games’) did an exceptional job of reading from the novel Buckingham Palace, District 6. LEAP is implementing a values based teaching approach which incorporates values lessons within the curricula. The teacher skilfully drew out the value of being open-minded and non-judgemental when exploring the relationships between the diverse characters. Next up, business studies: working in small groups, business ideas and concepts were being bounded around with gusto from exercise classes for the elderly to an intelligent pen which can automatically correct your spelling. Quite brilliant.

Maths and science
Maths was interesting, if entirely beyond my comprehension. The topic: Co-ordinate Geometry (what the?). I was lost and watched in amazement as Nonhlanhla quickly filled a page with equations and received her previous test marks: 100%. Excellent!  Eric’s teaching style is vibrant and engaging and the class really warm to him. So far I’ve been impressed by the firm, fair and participatory way the teachers engage with the students. Rather than instilling fear through rules, the teachers encourage self-discipline through promoting the LEAP code of conduct.

I skulked out of maths feeling a little disheartened that I’d managed to remember very little in the 16 years since I studied it. Not to worry… let’s see how I get on in life science: Malaria and parasites. Okay, that’s something I can wrap my head around. I was struck by the number of eager hands in the air and the intelligent and challenging questions being asked. No sooner had we learnt that a mosquito is a vector (well that’s one name for them!) carrying malaria parasites, we were whisked into chemistry. I was lost again in an atom cloud of intermolecular forces and polar molecules. I sat and watched as my classmates ran metaphorical circles around me. And I only came back to reality when I heard the teacher, Kass, say “in the presence of Hydrogen” to which a confident and bright-eyed Yolanda rose from her seat and humorously hollered, “in the presence of the LORD!” After a little hilarity we hit the books again.

After a full morning of lessons my head was spinning, but I’m also inspired and excited about the new relationships I’m beginning to build with a great group of LEAP students and my fresh understanding of their challenges, successes and experiences. I feel I can do my job of fundraising for this wonderful organisation better as result.

Cultural exchange
Thursday afternoons at LEAP are for cultural activities and sports which take place at Bishops Diocesan College, the private and privileged school with which LEAP 1 has a successful partnership. While some of the students board the bus to the Rondebosch-based school to take part in swimming practice, softball games, first aid training and debating, I was busy finalising arrangements for a drum circle for LEAP 2 and Herzlia students. It was fabulous to see the two groups, who hail from very different backgrounds, connecting with each other without inhibition. After the drumming and the excited tour of the school, the Herzlia kids boarded their bus back to town and it was time for me to get on mine. The LEAP students joined me, pouring from classrooms, halls and canteens from gumboot dancing, drama, debating and choir practice. I took my seat next to Chuma (one of my classmates) and asked her what she wanted to do when she left school. She told me she’d like to be a doctor or an electrical engineer.

Future leaders
I climbed off the bus in Langa exhausted but happy and inspired to be part of a really meaningful intervention in the lives of young people.  I have no doubt that sitting on that bus and in LEAP’s classrooms are the next generation of scientists, engineers, doctors, educators and business men and women who will lead South Africa to better and greater things and I’m looking forward to watching it unfold.

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Values – Everyone at LEAP commits to:

  • Being kind, honest and healthy
  • Being punctual and looking good
  • Working hard and never giving up
  • Admitting and learning from mistakes
  • Confronting issues and being open to change
  • Working together and sharing