Streetlight: Jeppestown opened its doors in January this year and took in the first cohort of 70 learners. A lot has changed since then: we are closer to the ideal learning environment that we envisioned, our school is expanding, but most importantly our learners are growing. The first semester has been an intense journey, with lots of new experiences acquired and lessons learned for both students and teachers.
When Streetlight: Jeppestown opened we did not screen children for ability, and accepted whoever came to our door. We operate in one of the poorest communities in Johannesburg, and many of our children were at a disadvantage when we started. Many of our learners were not able to speak a single word of English when entered the school. In the words of one teacher:
They couldn’t count. They couldn’t even hold a pencil. Let me give you an example for two classes I’m teaching. Most students in Grade 1 class didn’t go to the pre-school. They came and directly went to Grade 1.
But things have changed drastically since then. Our students have all grown enormously and we can say that we have closed the gaps that previously existed. To quote another teacher:
I have seen students who came in and couldn’t speak a word in English and now they can. I have seen others that could speak but couldn’t read, but now they can write, read and construct sentences on their own. The students are really growing.
The progress made by our students so far is palpable and the data from our assessments speaks clearly. We have evaluated the level of our students in terms of Numeracy and Literacy at the beginning of the school year and at the end of the second term. Evaluation was conducted on a scale of 1 - 5 (1= below average; 3 = good; 5 = outstanding). All students grew from “below average” to “good” and above, as seen in the graphs below:
To put these achievements in perspective, we decided to compare our student’s advancement in Numeracy and Literacy to government standards - the CAPS. We discovered that at the end of six months our learners are far surpassing national academic requirements expected of learners after 12 months of schooling. Some of the most striking facts are summarized below:
Below are some examples of the improvements that our students made between January and August:
On top of the amazing academic results, our learners are improving in many other respects. Here in Streetlights we don’t picture children simply as students but we are concerned with their overall development as young individuals. We believe that students cannot be just put in a classroom and expected to learn, they need to be guided and taught how to internalize the mechanisms and expectations implied in a creative and modern education system. It was not an easy task. As one of our teachers described ‘When we started here, it was chaos: fighting, running around the school and all those things.’ But after one semester we can proudly say that our students have embraced our concept of schooling. Learners fully understand what being part of our school is about and they are aware of the benefits that going to school brings to them. In other words, they love coming to school because they know it is a place where they can learn while enjoying themselves. According to one teacher:
All of our learners like to come to the school, even when they are sick. If their mom ask them to stay at home, they would cry. They want to come to the school. I think it’s because of the environment, the teachers and other learners.
In Streetlight Schools we see each child as a psychological, physical and intellectual whole, and treat their education as supporting and engaging with all these facets. Our aim is not just to deliver some knowledge, but to create an environment that will allow kids to flourish both academically and on a more personal level. By the end of the first semester teachers have started to observe some changes in the nature of our learners. Quoting one of them:
Our students are more mature. I see it behavior-wise. When they came they were a bit rowdy because of the community they come from probably. Now, they are much calmer, they have learned small things like sharing or feeling empathy for the next.
We are proud of what we have achieved so far and we are looking forwards to the future with confidence. Our teaching method has proven to be successful in all respects and beyond all expectations. The unique workshop model that we have been adopting into daily teaching practice enables learners to communicate and share ideas:
The workshop model gives learners room to air their views and to think outside the box...The traditional way of teaching could limit the learners.
Learners are abundantly ahead of their expected level according to CAPS, indeed they are in line with US academic standards (the Common Core) in terms of Numeracy and Literacy. More importantly, they are enthusiastic about school and they show a wonderful motivation for learning. We aim to continue to provide a stimulating and all-inclusive environment that will encourage each child in their development, and hopefully achieve even more outstanding results by the end of the year!
Thank all of the people that made this possible: our amazing teachers and tutors, interns and volunteers, secretary and cleaner, our school counselor, after school facilitators – and the most special group of learners. Keep it up with the amazing work!
Streetlight Schools Interns from Bocconi University