Dear Parents and Friends
Term Two has reached cruising height and velocity, en route to destination mid-year, following its usual turbulent take-off via a few long weekends and public holidays. Although it is not my intention to make my letters too ‘newsy’ (our website shares the Oakhill news very effectively), there are a couple of news items upon which I would like to reflect.
We welcomed the newly appointed Prep School music teacher, Laticha van Wageningen, to Oakhill on 2nd May. Laticha needs little introduction in music circles in Knysna and further afield. She has built a formidable reputation in the realm of school music in our town and the greater Garden Route region over the past decade and a half. We warmly welcome her and her daughter, Jana (Gr. 5), to Oakhill and hope that their whole family will quickly feel very much at home within our school community. Laticha shares our ambitious vision for the future growth of music at Oakhill and we are looking forward to the journey ahead with her on board. If the beautiful sound coming from our IP choir practice is an indication of things to come, then we are in for a treat!
Rose Hobson joined the Prep School teaching team once again, and this time in the Art class. Many parents know Rose well and will agree that we are very fortunate to have her talent and experience in our ranks again. We wish her a creative and fulfilling teaching experience in the Prep Art Room until the end of the year and possibly beyond.
By the end of Term One our Grade 2 class reached the critical number where Oakhill policy dictates double streaming and the decision was taken to split the class. After an extensive and rigorous interviewing process, Tonya Beyleveld was appointed as our new Grade 2 teacher. Tonya is a seasoned Foundation Phase teacher, a wonderful mother and an Old Oak, so we could not have wished for a better suited person to step into this role. May she experience much joy in her teaching of the Grade 2s and her involvement at the Prep.
Nicolaas Tshem, one of our groundsmen, did us proud with his recent achievements in road running. At the age of 56 this soft-spoken gentlemen has distinguished himself as one of the top grandmaster runners in our region with podium positions is his age division in several races this year. Nicolaas does not only inspire us with his running ability but even more so with his humble, unassuming disposition. He was overwhelmed with emotion when members of our parent body recently surprised him with a brand new pair of running shoes in which he is planning to win grandmaster gold at the 2017 Knysna Marathon. Good luck, Nicolaas!
It was with much anticipation that mountain biking was launched on 8th May as a new sport offered at College level. In a region that is known as an international MTB hotspot, it makes logical sense to offer the sport at Oakhill. This group of College boys and girls has enjoyed loads of fun, adventure and learning already, under the professional instruction of Marike Vreken, who requires no introduction in MTB circles, and following the example of Julian Bunge, our own provincial MTB champion. Our riders train twice per week on the OSC or a nearby route and they will also be participating in various upcoming MTB competitions and events for schools, such as the Spur series.
We are excitedly awaiting delivery of two brand new 14-seater Quantum school buses. Transport is a complex challenge for our school, with the logistics and curve balls presented by the Plett bus runs, OSC runs, sports fixture runs and other ad hoc transport needs, all taking place on any given day. We are looking forward to the agility and versatility the two smaller vehicles will add to our fleet.
I have mentioned earlier in this letter that we have ambitious plans for music at Oakhill. These plans include rekindling a culture of singing and making music in groups in the school. We are keen to extend the range of musical instruments on offer. There is no lack of musical talent among our pupils and we have the staff to teach various instruments but our progress is slowed by a number of challenges, including the shortage of instruments. We would therefore like to call on all parents and friends of the school to go and dig in your garage, wendy house, storeroom or shed for any musical instruments that you could offer to our music department. We are keen to restore these instruments to their former glory and to get them to make beautiful music again. If you have an instrument to offer, please drop it off at the Oakhill Music School with Laticha van Wageningen or Anneke Lamont.
I thoroughly enjoyed our hockey derby day at the OSC against Glenwood this past Friday – the first combined Prep and College derby day we have hosted. It worked like a charm and the whole day was a feast of participation, healthy rivalry, sportsmanship, hospitality, quality sport, socialising and support. Thank you to all those parents and friends who came out to support our players and especially to the Oakhill supporters’ club who were on form again. Your presence made all the difference! Our teams performed exceptionally well on the day and did the Oakhill name proud. A wonderful memory on the derby day was the spontaneous cheering of the College supporters during the First XI girls and boys matches. I heard a rumour that a special cheering onslaught is planned for the York High Derby next Saturday. Watch this space!
Miniature Art Exhibition
The Miniature Art Exhibition that took place on Saturday evening at the Knysna Fine Art Gallery was a festive, memorable occasion. The event celebrated local art in our school and the greater Knysna community with around 300 beautiful works on exhibit and for sale by silent auction. The auction was held in aid of the Oakhill Bursary Fund which aims at increasing access to our school for deserving, less privileged pupils from our wider community. The evening was well attended and our gratitude goes out to all those who offered their support and contribution to this worthy cause. Special mention should be made of Lioda Conrad, the guest artist who created a striking work of art during the exhibition. Lioda was kind enough to visit our College assembly this week where she shared a thought provoking message with us while demonstrating her unusual painting technique.
Our recent College bridge building competition – the first I have witnessed in my career – was simply awe-inspiring. It was very pleasing to see such interest and enthusiasm in the event, with teams consisting of College students of both genders and all grades. I always encourage staff to teach THINKING above all, regardless of the subject, sport or other context in which they engage with pupils and this activity achieved exactly that. The bridge builders challenge demanded levels of thinking that reached far beyond the mathematical. It demanded thinking around design, process, time management, risk and teamwork. The bridge breaking that took place at the Waterfront the next day was a ruthless test of the quality of the thinking that went into constructing the various bridges. Two of our teams went through to the regional competition where one of these finished second. More detailed information our website: https://www.oakhill.co.za/student-talk/college-bridge-building-and-breaking-competition/.
One of the tasks of Grade 10s on the Odyssey is to write a letter to the Head of School, during their 36 hour solo time. I received the letters near the end of Term One and kept them as holiday reading. The content of these letters blew me away, as they revealed a side of teenage thinking that adults do not regard possible. Without exception the boys and girls wrote with incredible maturity and authenticity about how the Odyssey experience helped them to reflect more deeply on what is really important in life. They wrote about gratitude, learning, priorities, values, relationships, perseverance, family, emotion, materialism, success, failure, prejudice, ambition, time, privilege, silence, fear, courage, the magic of being in nature and much more. We have undertaken an extensive review process of the Odyssey in which we are busy surveying feedback from pupils, parents and staff in order to better understand and improve this unique rite of passage that we offer our College pupils.
Little Oaks South Africa Day
I spent my best hour this week with our Little Oaks, as I joined them in celebrating everything South African, as part of ‘Africa Day’. We waved flags, did gumboot dancing, learned about the national flower, animal, bird and fish, sang the national anthem and tucked into traditional SA cuisine such as koeksisters, mosbolletjies, biltong, zoo biscuits, sump and milk tart.
International academic benchmarking
The results of our Grade 3, 6 and 9 International Benchmark Tests (IBT) as written in 2016 were announced this week and we are thrilled with these. In all of the three participating grades Oakhill results turned out to be well above the international average in Maths, English and Science. A large number of our pupils received special recognition from the IBT for their exceptional performances . More detailed news about this is also on our website: https://www.oakhill.co.za/oakhill-celebrates/ibt-results/.
The College Interact Club is currently running a blanket drive. They have challenged neighbouring schools to join Oakhill in collecting blankets for distribution in less privileged communities. We have collected a good stack by now but need a lot more blankets. The final count will be done at the York derby day and I encourage all families to help us in the final push this coming week.
I wonder whether you are aware of the work of Simon Sinek. I recently viewed a presentation by him entitled, ‘Start with Why?’ in which he stresses the importance of understanding the PURPOSE of whatever we are busy with. He is correct in stating that most institutions and individuals are confident about WHAT it is that they do and clearly know HOW to do it but too often lose track of WHY. Upon closer examination, the answer to this ‘why’ is often exposed to be ‘because others do it’, ‘because we were told to do it’ or ‘because it has always been done this way’. I discovered that my son was highly strung and emotional about his test this week. His anxiety was generated by his clear understanding of the ‘what’ of the test (major assessment; lots of content…) and the ‘how’ (written test; limited time…). However, when I started exploring with him WHY the test (any test) was necessary, he had no idea. We then took time to consider this and succeeded in pulling the sting of fear out of the situation.
In a different context, at the Miniature Art Exhibition, I challenged the attendees to consider the WHY of the occasion, namely the Oakhill Bursary Fund, not the school per se. Every contribution to this fund serves the greater cause of making excellent education accessible to young people in society who cannot afford it, due to circumstances beyond their control. We do this, not merely out of sympathy but in the hope that we will hereby contribute towards raising the leaders for tomorrow, so desperately needed in this country.
There is still much more to come before the end of term and I wish you and your children all of the best. In a smaller school, where we strive for excellence and everybody counts, ‘being busy’ is unavoidable but becomes meaningful when we know our WHY and when this is rooted in the best interest of the child.
Jannie de Villiers