She was warmly welcomed by the students and staff at the school, which now has 320 students and around 30 employees.
“Three new age groups and classes have been added, from preschool to 6th grade,” says Augestad.
Two tough years
The two years of pandemic have been very tough for the whole of South Africa, and especially for those who struggled the most to begin with. Streetlight Schools Jeppe Park is located in Jeppestown, one of Johannesburg’s poorest and most violent districts.
“For many of the students, the school meal is the only predictable meal during the day, and school is the only safe place to be,” says Augestad.
“Not least, the social environment and contact with teachers is invaluable in a local community characterised by a lot of insecurity, and where opportunities to care for the children are deficient. School has always been, and especially during the pandemic, an important arena for taking care of children’s academic, social, emotional and physical needs.
School staff realised early after the first national shutdown that the consequences for students and their families were dramatic.
“In Jeppestown, the local business community has virtually disappeared, and with it job and income opportunities for many of the families associated with the school,” says Heidi Augestad.
DEDICATED: Brian is a dedicated science teacher. With precise instruction and repetition, he goes through the steps in the lab exercise in 5th grade. Photo: Heidi Augestad
Maintained a good professional level
In South Africa, it has mainly been up to the schools to find solutions to maintain operations despite strict infection prevention measures. Fortunately, Streetlight Schools have coped well during the demanding times.
“The academic results have remained at a high level. Staff have maintained good, systematic teaching of basic skills at all levels, in combination with exploratory learning methods that engage and motivate the students,” says Augestad.
“Daily routines to ensure a safe and positive learning environment have been important when many students have experienced more isolation and social challenges at home,” she adds. Augestad emphasises that the school management has taken an enormous responsibility to support students, their families and school staff through the challenges.
ENGAGED: Exploratory learning engages and the students are very experienced in collaborating and sharing assignments. Photo: Heidi Augestad
The students moved
“The main challenge was to maintain the teaching and academic efforts of the students. During the longest lockdown periods, 20 percent of the students moved out of Johannesburg, and back to the districts where their parents come from, says principal at Streetlight Schools Jeppe Park, Tatenda Mafodya.
The school used WhatsApp as its main communication channel. Because several families did not have computers, the school purchased iPads for home-use to all students.
“We also offered emergency aid to families who had lost all income. Twice a month we delivered food boxes to 80 families, says Mafodya.
The school also collected money to buy face masks, hand sanitisers and other equipment to comply with infection prevention recommendations.
WORKSHOP MODEL: Phano is in English class in 2nd grade. After a joint gathering with a lecture, they join up in groups and work with differentiated and varied learning activities. The workshop model is used in all theoretical subjects at the school. Photo: Heidi Augestad
Difficult home situation
Principal Mafoyda says that many of the students have experienced the time as traumatic. High unemployment rates have contributed to harder living conditions and a difficult home situation for many.
“They have had to isolate themselves at home for long periods of time, and many live in homes that are characterised by violence and substance abuse,” she points out.
“At school, we experienced more negative behaviour in some of the students who brought with them frustrations and negative influences from home. We tried to respond with understanding and guidance.”
The school has introduced new social interventions, and strengthened the existing ones to take care of the students. Among other things, they have conducted several home visits and one-on-one meetings with both students and their parents.
They also have daily morning meetings where they talk about the importance of looking out for each other both at school and outside.
OPEN OFFICE: Tatenda’s office is always open to students who need extra follow-up. Here with one of the students in 4th grade who comes by to get their medicine. Photo: Heidi Augestad
Involved the students
From the start of the pandemic, Streetlight Schools has involved students in the work of solving large and small challenges in everyday school life during the pandemic.
“The students themselves have made instructional videos about hygiene measures that are shared on social media and out to the local community, Mafoyda says.
Like Heidi Augestad, she also believes that the school has been strengthened through the pandemic.
“We have had to develop and solve challenges in ways that make us stronger today,” she says, and highlights how both teachers and students have strengthened their skills in digital learning and communication.
“We take this further. This year, we will also include the second step in the digital investment,” she says.
“It requires something completely different”
Back in Norway, Heidi Augestad is deeply impressed with how the school has ensured teaching and taken care of students and their families during the pandemic.
“Running a school with scarce resources is an enormous task in itself, emphasises Augestad, who is currently employed as assistant principal at Granstangen school in Oslo.
“During the pandemic, everyone, from the principal to teachers, assistants and caretakers, had to take on even more extra tasks and think new. They have shown in practice how important it is for the school to be flexible and solution-oriented when the environment and conditions change.
GOOD LEARNING ENVIRONMENT: Each class has a wall in the common area where they show student work and topics that are worked on in the subjects. Visualizing learning and students’ efforts contribute to a positive and academically focused learning environment at the school. Photo: Heidi Augestad
- The organisation Streetlight Schools aims to offer innovative quality education to children living in poor areas with major social challenges in South Africa
- Started as a pilot project with an after-school offer in a small storage room in Johannesburg in 2013.
- In 2016, the first school, Streetlight Schools Jeppe Park, was established in the suburb of Jeppestown in Johannesburg.
- Together with founder Melanie Smuts, Norwegian Heidi Augestad has been involved in establishing and developing the school
- Augestad was principal at Streetlight Schools Jeppe Park from 2015-2018, and led the development of the operating model and the pedagogical learning work at the school
- The majority of students start school without experience from organised activities. For many, this is their first encounter with books and stationery
- Students at Streetlight Schools Jeppe Park perform on a par with students at other well-functioning schools, measured by international standards
- They are also far above what is achieved in the public school in South Africa, both when it comes to academic results and the students’ social and emotional learning environment
- In 2022, the school has 320 students from preschool class to 6th grade, and around 30 employees.