From the Junior School head’s desk: 21 October 2021

Sarah Warner

This week began exuberantly with some breathtakingly beautiful displays of athleticism and what Mrs Mshengu admiringly calls “grit” on sports day; it ended just as exuberantly with assemblies and music. Our Grade 7 debaters took on the Ridge boys on Monday (motion: that parents be allowed to microchip their children without first obtaining their consent), the rhythmic gymastics girls attended their prizegiving last Saturday, and earlier that week, all our Senior Primary girls took part in the filming of a choreographed dance (Shine Your Light by David Guetta and master KG) on the hockey AstroTurf under the skillful direction of Carrie Firth. To watch the drone-captured footage, follow this link:

I think the Junior School made what 90s electronic band The Propellerheads might dub “a little bit of history” that day.

On the topic of filming, a team of Junior School teachers did some performing of their own last week when we were given the opportunity to speak on record about our school and what happens at St Mary’s in the years of discovery and growth between beginning at Little Saints and entering the Senior School. Our intention in creating the video is to tell the story of the Junior School from a range of different departure points: academically, ethically, physically, spiritually. The term usually applied to the education we are describing is “holistic” – a philosophical term coined in the 1920s by none other than South African statesman J C Smuts – generally understood to refer to an interest in the intimate interconnection of the different parts of a system or organisation and something of a buzzword among independent schools.

What we are trying to articulate as a team of Junior School educators comes down to an interest in relationships, a theme Deanne King returns to regularly in her reflections on our school, and that can be regarded as a touchstone of all we do at St Mary’s. These relationships encompass everything that animates the school and gives it its distinctive flavour, stretching from the obvious (relationships between different stakeholders, disciplines, environments), to the more obscure (relationships between the mainstream and the marginal, conformity and originality, what we teach and what we reward, the “what we are trying to achieve” and the “how we get there”).

Of course, what guards and guides all our discussions (both linchpin and lodestar) is our Christian identity and ethos, and our educational philosophy. The love we speak of is love of your neighbour - the most demanding kind - that asks you to extend your care and compassion to everyone based on your shared humanity and not to those who resemble you only. Community, also, cannot be viewed as a spontaneous coming together. We create community through the establishment of shared values; we hold each other accountable; we aspire to doing better. And integrity holds the seemingly disparate aspects of our school together, puts its arms around them, and keeps everything whole.

The tension between continuity and change, decisions we take together about what we keep, what we discard, what we adapt, and what we maintain are governed by who we are and who we are becoming - not what we think we should seem at a particular moment. We want our girls and our teachers to be able to receive and give feedback and to develop robust relationships with each other that are built on trust and openness. We want, in other words, to establish a sisterhood that sustains us, offers genuine support and loving correction, and that encourages us to shine our light collectively.


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