After two and a half years of preparation, the moment finally came a few days ago: we launched the first Streetlight School- Jeppe Park Primary, in Jeppestown, Johannesburg. I cannot describe what it felt like to see children in their school uniforms with excited eyes looking at their new classrooms, learning the names of their new teachers and discovering a world made for their learning. It was beyond thrilling! Our mission has always been to demonstrate how exceptional education is within our reach for everyone in South Africa now. And with the school opening, I’d like to share some of the key recipes that makes that happen and where our national conversation should start (hint- it’s not test scores):
Community: a school for the next hundred years
A school has to be a part of the community it serves: it has to know what families in that community care and worry about, it has to know the constraints and assets within that community. Jeppe Park Primary’s school facility, aftercare, uniforms, school-feeding, social services and multilingualism are built to work within the framework of this community. When a school operates as a foreign, sanitised entity to its surroundings, it cannot create the legacy that comes with a great school.
Talent: Teachers matter
A school is only as good as the people who work there. Our school team consists of a mix of experienced educators and young people who are entering the teaching profession. What unites them is the seriousness with which they approach the responsibility of teaching children, and their willingness to reflect and improve on their craft. Creating an environment where everyone feels supported, and everyone knows that next week they will have honed their skills even more than this week lies at the heart of a culture of excellence.
Innovation: a sea-change in learning
We are at a special moment in the history of education: though school for us looked very similar to schools 50 years ago, the same is certainly not true for children who are starting school today. The opportunities presented by technology, new breakthroughs in the neuroscience of learning, sharing of curriculum and learning trends from across the globe and the changing trends of work in the 21st century means that we are in for an awakening in education. Now is the moment to renew our educational approaches: and a part of what makes Jeppe Park Primary great is a curriculum model that incorporates new trends like writing workshops, practical math, free play and thematic inquiry. We will continue to innovate, and try new things because every day more things become possible in education.
Melanie Smuts, Founder and CEO, Streetlight Schools