Khanyisa lights the way for pupils with special needs

Khanyisa Waldorf School staff Nomathemba Bakona, left, and Fatima Mohamed show off the school’s playground. PICTURE: JANICE MATTHEWS

Last month, the Khanyisa Waldorf School in Plumstead celebrated 30 years of helping children with special needs who slip through the cracks in mainstream schools.

The school, which takes its name from the Xhosa word meaning “to light”, opened in 1994 with three pupils and one teacher. It now has 65 staff and almost 70 pupils.

“The curriculum is linked to child development so whatever they do, whether it is Greek mythology, Roman history or learning about physiology, it is linked to whatever they are going through in their own child development, on their level, and it is also a development of not only the intellect but the artistic, the feeling life, and movement,” says Louise Schipper, who has more than 25 years Waldorf teaching experience and works as the school’s mentor.

“With the main lesson, we start the morning with movement first and all sorts of exercises to enhance learning, like crossing the midline and gross- or fine-motor-control activities so they are ready for the day. We do a bit of speech work and music so the whole person gets educated.”

According to school bursar Fatima Mohamed, the intake begins with 9- and 10-year-olds because that’s the age when learning problems usually surface and the child starts to battle in a mainstream school environment.

There are no more than 12 pupils per class at primary-school level and 15 at high-school level and skills classes focus on woodwork, gardening, gym, hospitality and computers.

“What we aim for when they leave is that they will be equivalent to a Grade 9 learner. Then hopefully they can go on to a further education and training college,” says Ms Mohamed of the children in the school’s skills programme.

“Putting learners in boxes doesn’t work. Mainstream doesn’t work. You cant have 35 children all the same. Life doesn’t work like that,” says Ms Mohammed.

Ms Schipper says children coming from a mainstream school environment are often very nervous when they first visit Khanyisa because they have been “put in a corner, told you are stupid and you can’t learn”.

However, she adds, after an entrance interview and a three-day trial, they usually start to relax and blossom.

“The children are very accepting of each other; they all know that each one has some kind of challenge, and they are somehow all every supportive of each other.”

Rochelle Magaar, of Ottery, says her 19-year-old son showed signs of learning difficulties in Grade 1 and she feared he would not cope in a mainstream school.

“My husband and I decided to search for a school that could accommodate his needs, and a friend recommended Khanyisa Waldorf School. He attended for ten years and became confident, overcoming many of his struggles like reading and maths.

“He was exposed to so many practical subjects, and my house is adorned with all the handmade items he brought home. I believe he got a better chance at life by being amongst children similar to him.”