Thank you for supporting Streetlight Schools this year- here is what we’ve done so far.

What if the neediest children had the most innovative, effective and transformative teachers and schools to help them unlock their full student, family and community potential? I founded Streetlight Schools to try and answer this question- which I believe is the most vital challenge we currently face as a society. I believe that this organisation has found a compelling, practical and visionary answer. Thank you for making our vision a reality this year.

South Africa is among the worst performing countries with respect to mathematics, science, and reading literacy in the world and on the continent. Of 100 students who enrol in primary school, less than half will make it to to the end of high school, and only 12 will qualify for university. We are, however, uniquely capable to make a drastic and courageous change to this reality.

In October last year I was standing amidst rubble in an empty factory-space wondering what on earth we were in for, and how we were going to start a school from nothing. And not just any school — a transformative, innovative, ambitious school. That reality seemed very far away from the dusty hall I was standing in. But that was the commitment we had made to families in the area and we were going to see it through.

Streetlight Schools, Jeppestown: a before image from October 2014
Jeppe Park Primary today.

From that moment to today as I write this, I can scarcely believe the transformation. Here have been some of our best gains:

First, our students: Our first cohort of 70 learners arrived in January. We did not screen children for ability, and took whoever came to our door. We operate in one of the poorest communities in Johannesburg, and our children were at a disadvantage when we started. In the words of one teacher:

…when we just started, kids here didn’t speak a single word of English. But now you can communicate. You ask a question in English they would answer it in full. … They couldn’t count. They couldn’t even hold a pencil. Let me give you an example for two classes I’m teaching. Most students in Grade 1 class didn’t go to the pre-school. They came and directly went to Grade 1. …After only two weeks, to be honest, it became a very good school. They could communicate to each other and all those things.

And beyond the academics, it’s the nature of the children that has also developed. Another teacher notes:

All of our learners like to come to the school, even when they are sick. If their mom ask them to stay at home, they would cry. They want to come to the school. I think it’s because of the environment, the teachers and other learners. When we started here, it was chaos: fighting, running around the school and all those things.

At the end of six months, our learners are far surpassing national academic requirements expected of learners after 12 months of schooling and are now closing in on international academic standards equivalent to what learners are achieving in New Zealand and the United States.

Pedagogic innovations such as using the Workshop Model allow us to make impressive academic gains in a short time

Second, our staff: Through our focus on intensive, high-quality teacher development, we have been able to take local, unqualified individuals with some education experience and orientate them successfully towards becoming competent, professional and passionate educators who are likely to remain in the profession for life. Not only are we creating jobs, we are building a talent pipeline for the next generation of great South African educators. One of these teachers-in-training notes:

I was working in a call centre. They give you possibility to get you dream jobs. They knew I want to be a teacher so they put me into contact with Streetlight. So I applied, they interviewed me, I got the job and the dream came true!
I always taught once a week like volunteer to do things. And I thought things are so simple and I can even do them when I sleep. Then I came here and I have to start planning, reading through what I have to teach, knowing what I have to teach…It’s about knowledge…, to teach them and be prepared, but I loved it. The fact is when I start working with the kids it is the best part…They asked you questions that you never thought about. It’s been awesome.
A teacher prepares learners to kick off a lesson

Third, the community: Unrest, evictions, and inequality are common day features of Jeppestown but so too is a vibrant community yearning for change. We have shown step by step that we are establishing ourselves as an important and meaningful partner in unlocking the potential of Jeppestown. Our work to deliver a transformative and empowering educational reality in Jeppestown has helped transform the community to a safe and healthy living urban environment and catalyzed job creation, including 6 new jobs for parents, and the start of a local business entirely owned and run by Jeppestown mothers (the Downstairs Diner).

One of the mothers preparing school lunch in the diner she now runs

Thank you for helping us go from an empty shell in a building to a living, viable example of what is possible in education if we collaborate, support each other and dare to re-imagine a future where all children receive the best educational opportunities. Thank you for helping me turn on more lights for ever more learners.

Melanie

Founder + CEO: Streetlight Schools

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