Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The problem with High School is .....


The problem with High School is .....
4 June 2013

I don’t really have a problem with High School per se.  Nor with my son’s High School in particular.  In fact far from it.

I am delighted with the education he is receiving.  I like the ethics of the school.  The way they are culturally rounded with an excellent music, drama as well as design department.  Their excellence in academics (Top High School in the Western Cape, also number one High School in the Western Cape for excellence in Mathematics and Science – I know I’m bragging, but their results are brag-worthy).  Then there is their remarkable sporting achievements – they won the annual athletics inter schools against two other schools in the area, seven years in a row (sadly lost this year by a very narrow margin).  I applaud the responsibility they are teaching my son.  I see him taking more and more lead with regards to his academics.  I am having to spend less time nagging him to study.  He starts with the virtual plethora of projects (it is a very project driven school) weeks in advance and is therefore learning to work ahead and plan.  Time management is key.  Everything is not just last-minute-dot-com anymore.  And so I see many, many advantages to this school.  On numerous different levels.

The teachers seem to be teaching.  The coaches seem to be coaching.  There is a rich tradition that has been built up and being a part of PV, means a lot to these kids.  Being a bulldog (the school mascot) - all important.  The kids are enticed and encouraged to participate in as much as possible.  And funny enough, they want to.  There is just so much to do.  They like their headmaster.  One and all.  And I find this a really strange concept to wrap my head around.  Yes, they respect him and his authority.  But more importantly, they genuinely like him.  They feel he is fair.  That he cares.  Mainly because I think he really does.  He knows most kids by their name.  This even though there is in excess of 1 200 kids at the school, and he is not a teacher himself.

I remember Luke saying last year, that on occasion (I think in their Geography class), they would look outside their window and see him on the sports field, walking his dog.  His companion at most times.  On one occasion, Luke says they were busy writing a test, and in the middle of the test, a tennis ball came flying into their class room, followed by the principal’s dog.  And the principal not far behind him.  Most apologetic.  He’s human and treats the kids with respect too.  He speaks to them on their level and listens to them when they talk.  Makes allowances for their youthful exuberance, and gives them certain privileges.  But they have to earn these.  And not abuse them.

I also remember sitting in the hall at the open day, shortly before Luke embarked on his High School journey, and Mr Gouws saying to all the parents.  “It is time for you to step back.  To let go.  Give us your kids, and we’ll return them to you as young adults”.  It scared me spitless.  I wasn’t giving anyone my kid!  But once school started, I finally understood.  They drew the kids in.  Lured them with endless possibilities.  And my task, was to let Luke embrace it all.  To set him free and let him do as much as possible.  To fully become a part of this wonderful school.  It absorbed him and excited him and he simply lapped it all up.

And to illustrate the brilliance of their beloved Mr Gouws, Luke recalled an instance one Monday morning, when the whole school, was gathered in the hall for their Monday assembly.  Mr Gouws was busy talking, when all of a sudden, he stopped in the middle of a sentence, and said in a calm and clear voice, “John and Peter you may be excused.  You are talking in my assembly and you are not welcome here anymore”.  No, I can’t remember exactly what their names were, but the point is, that the headmaster did.  He looked them straight in the eye when he was talking to them.  Rather than raising his voice or screaming and shouting, ranting and raving, he quite simply and effectively neutralised the situation.  Luke said it scared the bejeebers out of all of them.  You could hear a pin drop.  And Mr Gouws remained silent until “John and Peter” had excused themselves and left the hall.  How truly remarkable.  It left a lasting impression.  I’m guessing there’s not so much talking during assembly anymore.

Furthermore, I am amazed at the very high standard that is set for these kids.  Standards they seem to attain.  The kids are passionate about their school.  And never is this more evident than at occasions like their inter schools.  It is as if they all get infected with a fever.  An illness if you like.  In fact, the school has acknowledged this and calls it being “PV Positive”.  And I simply love it.  The whole school gets together every single morning, practicing their sing-songs and war cries.  The cream of the crop is chosen as cheerleaders.  They decide on a theme, costumes are made and then magic simply follows.  They also do a blazer formation, which gives me goose bumps, it is so exciting.  It is thrilling to watch and quite captivating and even as a parent, I get swept up in it all.  Athletes are revered by all and put on a pedestal up high.  Their every achievement celebrated.  I include a youtube clip from their blazer formation last year.  Luke is in there somewhere.  It’s quite a long clip, and though the beginning is quite slow, once the cheerleaders have done their procession, it really gets going.  And at about 3 minutes and 50 seconds or so, Mr Gouws is even spotted – always identified by his little round specs.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtQHOK4zCK8&feature=player_detailpage

And so from the side lines I am fully enjoying high school once more.  As a parent this time.  Possibly more so, as I don’t have to do the homework, exams or projects.

So exactly what is my problem then?

It's not the school.  It's not the teachers.  It's not the work ethic.  It's not the sport.  Well, it’s quite simple.  My problem with High School, is the fact that I’m relying on a fifteen year old for information.  A fifteen year old boy to be exact.

No more little slips like we used to get from the Primary School stating, “Your son has been chosen for ….. Practice is at …..  The match will be played at ….. and you need to be there at …..”  No, I get nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  Zero.  I also just get random snippets of info like, “school is closing early tomorrow, please fetch me at…..”.  Once again, I am relying on a fifteen year old.  Boy child.  Do you see my problem?  Info is shared on a need-to-know basis.

It’s that whole “responsibility” thing rearing its ugly head again.  Because good though it is, it certainly keeps me in the dark.  And also I'm suspecting it's putting that whole "turning them into young adults thing" into play.  And making it a reality.  One I begrudgingly actually like.  In fact, I look forward to the end-adult-result, with bated breath.

And so I must confess.  Big up Parel Vallei High School.  I've clearly been infected.  I’m PV Positive too.

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Beautiful fields and school buildings

School building once more

Sign up at the front gate


School emblem designed by my old school friend, Christo Maritz.  Yes, I was a part of the original intake of PV, when it first made it's debut in 1986.  We were a new school without a uniform, a logo, an emblem, a school song, etc.  How wonderful to see how far she has come.



  1. This is a wonderful blog post, and one the school should cherish!
    Wow, what a school! Demonstrating again the power of the principal who sets the tone for the entire school.
    How privileged to have Luke there.
    Even in your day, it attracted attention as a young school.
    You neglected to say that it was designed by highly respected architect Gawie Fagan, you know.....and that he took immense much trouble to blend in with the surroundings so that it seems to be much older and more grounded and more established than it really is.
    All subtle things to enrich the school and the expectation around it.

  2. I know just what you are saying, even at primary school, they are trying to get them to take ownership in grade 7, to prepare them for high school. I am lost and keep questioning Daniel, "Are you sure, did they really say that, are you sure you heard right, can't we ask someone just to be sure?" And he keeps say, "Yes mom, why don't you trust me?" I was at the PV open day this year and Mr Gouws gave the same speach, so it was quite nice to get the heads up. Now I know what's coming, kind of glad we are getting some practices now. I just hope we get in, because now you have to go through a whole interview process and there is a points system. Going to the school the other day and walking around the classrooms bought back so much, I kept expecting to run into some of our old teachers, but non of them where there. It felt good to know that we where part of the history.

  3. This post made me incredibly nostalgic about my days in PV. Please send to Ettienne Gouws; I'm sure he would LOVE to read this :)

  4. And they have beautiful fields thanx to us clearing all the rocks.away....

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  6. thanks for posting the link to the video clip.The performance is amazing and so effective! Clever pupils and teaches. PV grown so much and pupils look so smart and proud. Do not see many kids where there uniform so proudly and smartly but that true of most SA school kids. Would love to go and have a look at the school as it changed so much in the last 20 years! I love your blog so I going to subscribe. I was one of the 'worms' (std 6) when you were in matric, same year as your brother.