Letter from the Principal: 24 April 2020

BY Mrs K. Stear

Dear Learners and Parents
I hope my message finds you all resilient and safe at this strange and difficult time. I am sure we are all navigating challenges of some or other form.  Educationally, we are facing the same hurdles in terms of moving into the distance learning (and teaching) space, but I hope that you have also found some satisfaction in the challenge of learning and working in new ways. How we respond to challenges is a mark of our character and I hope that you are all trying to keep upbeat and showing your best side.
Our President, Cyril Ramaphosa, in his update speech to the nation last night, said little about education except to say that directions are to be issued by the Minister of Basic Education and Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation. We are therefore none the wiser as to what the future holds for education in 2020 and beyond or to exactly when and how schools will reopen. Hopefully, we will receive direction from the Department of Education very soon.
Distance learning is certainly challenging, both for learners and educators. However, Riebeek finds itself in the difficult position of not being able to offer a full scope of on-line teaching and learning due to the fact that this requires Wi-Fi or data. A great percentage of our Riebeek families do not have access to Wi-Fi, and data is limited due to the cost. Our teachers are therefore committed to teaching to ALL our learners via the d6, the WhatsApp groups and email. We ask our learners to support us in this and to do their utmost to work together with their teachers and peers. I also ask our matrics to make greater use of the tutors from the class of 2019 who have so generously offered to help when a learner needs assistance with their studies. 
In order to keep data usage to a minimum on the WhatsApp groups, I remind you all of the WhatsApp protocols shared recently.  The link for downloading the d6 is for those who have still not downloaded it – homework appears via this forum.  Please check that your settings are correct for the relevant grade by going to the PERSONALISE tab and clicking the correct grades on the tabs there. 
The staff and I have tried hard to keep a spirit of unity and encouragement going in the past weeks as it is very important in these dire times for us to stick together and support each other, even though we are not physically together. In our attempts to do this, we have used social media extensively, and I have to make special mention of Mrs Gerber, who works tirelessly to keep our social media platforms alive with uplifting clips and photographs of our staff and learners. This will prove to be a valuable archive of the times of lockdown.  We thank our learners, parents and teachers who have supplied uplifting material to try to cater to the psychological well-being of our community by keeping us connected.  
This, and our teachers’ efforts to keep education going on various platforms, is all done from our hearts. I do not expect to receive criticism from learners on this, but rather I expect them to feel thankful that the staff are so committed to keeping Riebeek united and alive. Girls, in times of crisis, ask yourself, “How can I help?” and not “What can I criticise?”.  It is imperative that we work side by side and cover each other’s backs in these tumultuous times. Riebeek is one. Let us keep it that way.
Our teachers are so resilient and flexible and it has been absolutely incredible to see how these special people have embraced this challenge. They have evolved in such a short space of time into techno pros and crisis management experts; and are doing everything possible to ensure that our girls are equipped with many skills that will advantage them at the end of this lockdown. I salute all the school leaders and teachers out there! Our teachers have to balance so many factors in determining what methods to use to keep the syllabus going while taking into account many circumstances and realities.  We are not sure what will be in the syllabus should it be trimmed. We are not sure how much teaching time there will be when we do return and what work will then be required to be covered. For this reason, teachers have carefully selected work that has intrinsic value in some or other manner. For example, getting learners to make summaries improves analysis and synthesis skills, asking learners to work through exercises establishes some pre-knowledge within the learner enabling the teaching and explaining of the work to be much easier when learners are back in the classroom.  While it is tempting to believe that teachers should be online teaching for full school days, it is not realistic when we consider that this work will need to be relooked at when we return to school for the benefit of those who cannot access online learning at this stage.  Frankly, teachers do not spend all day every day teaching during normal circumstances of a normal school day, as there is also a need for the learner to consolidate, explore, investigate and work with the work.  Therefore, when all these factors are considered, we appeal to our parents AND learners to understand that much thought is going into what is the best way to keep education going through targeted methods that hold multiple benefits.  This is an excellent opportunity for our girls to learn independence, time management, empathy, study skills, resourcefulness and determination.  This skill set should not be underestimated. 
Behind the scenes, the SGB, staff and I have been working on creating a plan of operation for when the school does open. We have been sourcing items such as sanitiser, a temperature scanner; among other things; and collecting quotations to have the school sanitised professionally. A risk assessment of the various areas of the school has been done and a procedure to follow created if a learner does become ill at school or develops a temperature. We are also looking at training material for the school on the correct protocol to follow to protect us from the corona virus. We are also scrutinising our budget so we can plan for the months ahead.
We appeal to our parents to continue paying school fees.  We have operational costs that do not stop because of lockdown and we need to keep paying SGB salaries, electricity accounts, our security company; to name but a few. 
We again want to acknowledge the immense contribution of our parents who are serving our communities as essential workers.  We acknowledge too that it is hard for parents to try and juggle their new roles as teacher assistants with their other commitments.  When all this over, I hope though that every family will have some fond memories of new experiences and challenges overcome. 
Rest assured that when we return to school, our teachers will ensure that material issued during lockdown digitally will be made available to those who were unable to access the material.  Rest assured that work that the learners did not understand will be explained.  We have an established reputation as a school of academic excellence and the process and aftermath of lockdown will not, in any way, deter us from continuing our academic prowess.  Having said that, I again appeal to parents to provide data where possible.  I ask that girls do what they can within the resource set available to them. Having little data would not be an excuse to not do, as well as possible, any textbook exercises teachers have instructed learners to do, or work handed out before lockdown began.  We do not want girls to be complacent believing that they can do nothing and everything can be left to when we return to school. 
Girls, you are experiencing very unique times indeed. I ask you to try not to be too stressed and not to let your frustrations with the world-wide situation boil over into negativity.  Keep working on your studies and attempt to make yourself proud. Lift yourself up and meet every challenge. Together we will survive this. Your biggest asset at this time is your mindset.
Stay at home and stay safe.
Mrs K Stear

 April 24, 2020
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