IM this article to a friend!

November 21, 2002

Children find new world as fences come down

From: Independent Online, South Africa
Nov. 21, 2002

By Buhle Khumalo

Good fences make good neighbours - or so the saying goes

But for two Jo'burg schools which have shared a dividing wall for more than six decades, the fence has come down in a spirit of co-operation.

Now one school, facing closure, has been saved while the other has undreamt-of space for its pupils.

This is the story of the St Vincent School for the Deaf and a private school, Pridwin Preparatory Boys' School, in Melrose.

St Vincent's limited funding from the government has meant that over the years its facilities have become increasingly dilapidated, the tennis court was overgrown by grass and the swimming pool was green, the grounds desperately needed maintaining.

A large number of the school's pupils come from disadvantaged families.

St Vincent's principal Sister Claudette Bogner paints a sad picture of the school's diminishing resources.

"The government has downsized 10 teachers, which means we have to employ and pay them ourselves. Our classes have almost doubled and there are now 12 children instead of seven to a teacher in a class."

Next door is Pridwin, where children receive an exclusive education. But there is no space for expansion. Now it has four more tennis courts and has expanded the pool at St Vincent. There are also plans for a shared information technology facility, a vocational centre and an academic support centre.

And the agreement to share a campus has spinoffs for the pupils, as they have already found.

St Vincent pupil Bakupile Ramhoene, 9, said she was able to interact with hearing children if they spoke slowly: "I feel happy. I look forward to swimming. I loved playing with the other kids, although we do not know them."

Dimitri Kakavas, 9, said she was at first confused and scared. Although she has partial hearing, she finds that "they (pupils from Pridwin) talk too fast and I can't hear them. I get confused a bit when they are all talking loud."

Now children at Pridwin are being taught basic sign language.

As Murray Rait, 9, said: "This is really exciting. I can ask 'How are you?' in sign language or 'Are you hungry?' "

©2002 Independent Online.