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‘I’M MOTIVATED EVERY DAY’: HOW TEACHER HAZEL BEATS THE ODDS

Rising powerfully to new challenges every day: principal Hazel (centre) does the pre-lockdown corona foot stomp with teaching colleagues Shirley Sylvester and Nolwethu Ladi  |  Photo: Leentjie du Preez, Grace Photography
Many of Emmanuel Educare’s pupils come from homes with extreme challenges. Yet this preschool in Cape Town’s Westlake township is able to send many of them on to excellent primary schools, putting them on a path with a chance in life. What are Emmanuel’s greatest challenges, and what is its secret? SUE BROWN spoke to principal HAZEL ALBERTUS to find out

Hazel Albertus (66) has taught at Emmanuel Educare since 2005, and became principal in 2015. She grew up in Rondebosch and was widowed in 2001, when her security guard husband died, following health complications arising out of an armed robbery. Hazel now lives in Steenberg with her two adult sons, Clinton and Bradley

‘I believe in bringing myself to the level of a child, so I always teach seated on a little chair. I try to be a listener, as each of our children comes from a different home with unique challenges. Many of our 180 pupils live in shacks and overcrowded conditions and have to wash outside in winter under a cold tap.

Some of our mothers are still teenagers, parents are often not together, and many of our children have been exposed to the ills of drug and alcohol addiction. It’s a big challenge to keep each child in school. If one hasn’t been attending, the teacher will keep calling and try to visit. Achieving the partnership of the parents remains a struggle, with only about 30 parents (16%) attending our Parent-Teacher Association meetings and our last Open Day.

‘I try to be a listener,’ says Hazel. ‘Each of our children comes from a different home with unique challenges. Many live in shacks and have been exposed to drug and alcohol addiction.’  | Photo: Leentjie du Preez

Despite all this, when our children leave Emmanuel, they’re ready for any primary school. Most go on to Westlake Primary, others to Kirstenhof, Zwaanswyk, Sun Valley and one even won a bursary to Reddam House, a top private school.

Many bring their excellent reports from their new schools to show us. Past pupils are now studying at the University of Cape Town (UCT), and one at UCT Ballet School.

‘We love to be a safe haven for our learners,’ says Hazel  |  Photos: Leentjie du Preez

My staff and I work as a team, all 100% dedicated to our pupils. Some arrive as early as 7am to help children cross the road safely, as some as young as three years-old are making their own way to school. Someone will stay as late as 6pm with children who haven’t been collected.

Life skills training is an important part of our education. We begin each Monday with assembly, a bible story, and the singing of choruses. I teach the 10 commandments as God’s 10 rules. One mom told me how her child had come home and told his family that husbands and wives need to love each other, and how that had been such a good reminder to them.

Hazel: ‘Our classes are no bigger than 30 and our staff are 100% dedicated. Life skills training is an important part of our education. One boy hadn’t spoken for a year and started speaking at Emmanuel: such success stories encourage our team.’  |  Photos: Leentjie du Preez

Another little boy hadn’t spoken at all for about a year. After six months at Emmanuel, he began to talk. He now goes home and tells his grateful mother stories of his day at school. Such success stories encourage our team.

We instil the importance of respect and listening in our school. The children laugh when I tell them that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a good reason, and to imagine how funny we would look if it was the other way around!

We emphasise that nothing’s ever wrong: what’s important is to keep trying. Children work at different paces, and if work isn’t complete, it can be continued the next day. Each child has his or her own basket of classroom supplies, but we also teach sharing.

Emmanuel children are given two meals and two snacks every day, freshly prepared by kitchen staff   |  Photos: Leentjie du Preez
With some children staying in aftercare at Emmanuel till 5pm, rest and exercise are very much part of their school day  |  Photos: Leentjie du Preez

Pastor Maxine from Tokai Methodist Church meets every week with our staff to support them, which is wonderful. I’m committed to the upskilling of our assistant teachers, who progress through formal training at Cape Town College.

no child is excluded through non-payment

Non-payment of school fees remains a huge challenge, although no child will be excluded as a result. Luckily, we receive some state subsidies and funding from the private Westlake United Church Trust.

We also gratefully receive wonderful food donations from Reddam House, our local Pick n Pay and Woolworths. We have fabulous volunteers who come to do extra activities with our children: ballet, cricket, art and singing.

‘Only 16% of parents attend our meetings, but we go above the curriculum and press the children,’ says Hazel. Members of the Thislife team are glad to see the chocolate bar on her desk, clinically proven by scientists to be a superior work aid 🙂 | Photo: Leentjie du Preez

We love to be a safe haven for our learners, but our mandate is to teach, so we refer any concerns about a child’s welfare to a social worker. We work closely with the Education Department, sometimes needing to explain why a child might not have attained the educational standards for his or her age. We’re very proud to have been used by the Western Cape Education Department for a training video on classroom management.

I think I would say our success comes down to the dedication of our teachers. We motivate the children, we press them, we push along. We don’t just stick to the curriculum, we go above the curriculum. There is a lot of talent to nurture in Westlake but without receiving the strong foundation we give them, the children would be sort of lost. Motivation is also key: we ask our children from a very young age what they would like to be.

‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change your world,’ says the graffiti in the challenged community of Westlake. The walls also bear the words of South African icon, Nelson Mandela: ‘It always seems impossible till it’s done’  |  Photo: Leentjie du Preez

The challenges are there but the teachers and I get a lot of fulfilment. I just have to remember to keep calm and keep my cool! But I’m motivated each and every day by the bright, young faces of the children.’

Hazel: ‘I’m motivated each day by the bright, young faces of the children!’  | Photo: Leentjie du Preez
On the way up: pupils at Emmanuel Educare  |  Photo: Leentjie du Preez

THE FULFILMENT WE ALL SEEK: ENJOY THIS GLIMPSE OF HAZEL AND HER PUPILS

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