From the headmistress’ desk: 10 July 2019

Dear parents

Schools are singular places: it’s almost like you have to be in them, in the midst of whatever’s happening, preferably feeling like you’re not altogether surfacing, to be able to describe them with any authenticity. I imagined, foolishly, that deferring the publication of the Just Junior and being given the luxury to write my piece over the half-term and read through the rest of the content at my leisure would be so much easier than writing and reading with the usual pressures looming. I was wrong. I feel oddly removed from the school now and awkward in my attempts to capture the events of only a week ago.

So much happened: the Grade 0s hosted grandparents’ day; the HOPE committee put together a panel discussion on transformation and diversity with the heads of five schools, including our own Ms King, chaired by Bongani Bingwa and staged in The Edge; several Senior Primary girls spoke at this term’s Chatterbox competition; many of the Grade 7 girls went on tour to Grahamstown accompanied by their mentor teachers; the mid-year Junior School reports went live on our new admin portal.

Looking at that list of possible topics, it would be fair to say that I am spoilt for choice. Of course, the list is by no means comprehensive – so much happens at schools daily, which does not constitute an event, but which exerts a force on who we are and what we do without our documenting it officially. And it’s the process of documentation, and the value of documentation, in contrast, perhaps, to the need for promotion and self- promotion that I wish to turn to here.

On the Monday before half-term, as part of the weekly professional development that happens in our Junior School staff meetings, Agi Clarke and Lynn Trollip presented documentation on an architectural project they ran with the Grade 0 class last year. My daughter was in that class, so I imagined, again foolishly, that I was completely familiar with what we were about to be shown. Again, I was wrong.

Agi and Lynn took us through the project from unplanned beginning to indefinite end: put simply, the girls were asked to draw a picture of their house. All the images they produced, squarish box with a triangle on top, two windows and a door, were unremarkably similar. What was alarmingly clear to Agi and Lynn, and what we might be inclined to treat as indifferent, was that the girls were not seeing place at all. Architects have a professional interest in arguing for the value of place in our understanding of humanity, but anyone can relate to the idea of home and its significance in questions of self and identity and belonging.

So, what did the Grade 0s do? They explored. They looked at images of houses and buildings and went on outings and drew and constructed and talked and dreamed and took photographs and met an architect and paid attention to what was all around them in their own way – in their own way.

What Agi and Lynn did with their girls emphatically disrupts the sentimental narrative of school as the institution that deprives us of our individuality, destroys all original thought and rewards conformity. What they did was transform the expectations, aesthetic and ethical, of a Grade 0 picture of her house; they diversified the conversation about houses, buildings, communities, and us. I can label what they did “Reggio” if that would help us to recognise the value of the project that culminated but has not ended in 50 drawings of entirely dissimilar houses. It would be only partly true: the truth of the project lies in its responsiveness to an immediate context and need that has a lot to do with being a girl, at St Mary’s, now.

Schools, as I said, are singular places ...

One last thought: the St Mary’s Foundation will be inviting parents from each grade for a get-together at SMOGS in the coming weeks. This will be a wonderful opportunity for you to meet the parents in your grade, and to find out about the Foundation, while enjoying a free cappuccino. Please check the app for your grade’s allocated date – we look forward to seeing you there!

Dr Sarah Warner
Junior School headmistress