A COMMUNITY school for matrics who got bad marks the first time round has earned widespread praise for producing as many annual university passes as six Grahamstown township schools combined.
Started 20 years ago after the community appealed to local activist Dr Thelma Henderson for help, the Grahamstown and District Relief Association (Gadra) Matric School (GMS) has become a beacon of hope for students keen to turn failure into success.
Henderson, who died in 2009, dedicated more than three decades of her life to helping 80000 needy people by raising R27-million as head of the acclaimed Gadra.
GMS principal Melanie Lancaster, who has with the school since it started in 1994, said even though they only had three full-time staffers, they were never short of skilled help.
“All the other teachers are part-time, some lecture at Rhodes, some have other jobs.”
University head of classics John Jackson teaches maths, while other Rhodes volunteers – including a PhD chemistry student and others from philosophy – also help out tutoring. Some GMS students even have university mentors to assist them.
“We try to be a family school, though we expect students to fit into the discipline framework. The teachers – while fully focused on work – are more informal, and try to get to know students and their home situations well.”
Lancaster said strong bonds were formed to the extent that one teacher was even helping with food for several poor learners.
The students, who do not wear school uniforms to classes held at the Johan Carinus Art School, said the personalised, expert tuition and more relaxed teaching techniques helped them achieve better marks than they did at school.
“It is a very intense year academically for our students who have to get used to our teachers – all very different and individual.”
Students are taught to be punctual, do homework and communicate any personal problems.
“We usually find that most of our students do not have these basic habits which will make life easier in the grown-up world.”
This year 140 students were accepted from 500 applicants. Without any government funding, Gadra manager Ashley Westaway has to try and find R1.5-million a year from funders and donors.
According to Westaway, the fact that GMS annually produced as many black university passes as six local township schools combined made the job a little easier.
He said the 2014 class was the “best yet” and 81 students had obtained university level passes in June. “GMS is aiming to become the most important feeder school of Rhodes University.”
Liam Moffatt, 20, said after a year at GMS he hoped to go on to study mechanical engineering.
“I am picking up lots, filling in the gaps from school. Things are a lot more focused here.”
Jackson said although it was “pretty remarkable” for a student to improve their maths marks by 10%, they did have cases where they increased by as much as 30%.
“It is so hard to catch up. We start the year with primary school fractions; it works best that way.”
Article by: David Macgregor
Aricle Source: Dispatch LiveSource: Dispatch Live
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