Making a difference in the lives of learners at Jan Kriel School
This year Jan Kriel School celebrates its 85th anniversary. Although many people commemorate in this achievement few know how many obstacles there were to overcome.
Rev and Mrs Kriel were the pastor couple of Dutch Reformed Church Kuilsrivier from 1924 to 1937. Their beloved son, Jan, suffered from epilepsy for which there was no advice in South Africa at that time. At great expense they visited Europe and America to gain knowledge from organizations with valuable experience in the care of persons with epilepsy.
Unfortunately, Jan died at the age of 16 in 1925. What happened afterwards was described as follows by the late Dr Piet du Toit, chairman of the school's management 1945-1976: "And then it happened. Instead of being depressed, giving up and falling into despair, they took off on the wings of faith and prayer and saw a clear vision". Their pioneering work in this regard led to an application to the local Dutch Reformed Church to buy the old parsonage to serve as an institution for persons suffering from "falling sickness". It is interesting to know that in the early years there was no plan to establish a school because the main purpose of the institution was a "home".
However, the only way to obtain state support was to establish a special school. On 1 April 1937, recognition was granted by the then Union Education Department and the school was officially opened on 4 May 1937 by Lady Duncan, wife of the then Governor General. Shortly after the opening, there were already 7 children, cared for by a nurse and one teacher. All the work was then still done in the old parsonage just as it was when the Kriels lived there. It was soon decided to enlarge the existing buildings with approved building plans and at the same time an outbuilding's horse stable was converted into a classroom. The number of pupils grew quite rapidly and by July 1939, 37 learners were receiving lessons from 3 female teachers. Since accommodation was also a problem, there were already negotiations in 1936 to buy the Elim farm. The farmstead and cowsheds were converted into bedrooms for the boys, while the old parsonage could house the girls and an office. With the help of the "Halfkroon Fonds" in 1941 and a state subsidy, improvements were made to serve as the 'new school' until 1950.
The General Committee already realized in 1940 that it would not be possible to maintain the institution as a private enterprise. At the end of 1941, the Dutch Reformed Church entered into a partnership regarding the education of children with epilepsy. The first principal was appointed in 1942 and planning for a new institution, residences and dining hall was also continued. In 1947, two residential units for 64 girls and 32 boys were completed and by 1950, 5 more classrooms and administrative offices had been erected. A staff house was put into use in 1952 and further improvements to the school buildings, hall and classrooms were completed in 1953. After the athletics track was developed in 1961, other sports facilities such as tennis courts, netball courts and a rugby field were also built.
The first medical specialists already joined the school in the earlier years, but by 1978 a psychologist, physiotherapist, speech therapist, social worker and occupational therapist had already been appointed. By 1965 the number of pupils was approximately 100 and by 1972 pupils with specific learning difficulties were included in the school. To provide for the growing number of day scholars, the first buses were purchased in 1976. A further important development and consequence of the changed admission criteria was the establishment in 1981 of orthodidactics as a teaching method to assist children with specific learning difficulties. Due to a larger number of learners and therapy rooms, the re-planning of the school in totality became a cry for help and building work began in 1983. The school building, as we know it today, was inaugurated in 1985.
The school crest, which was designed in 1976, was revised in 1983 to include the motto "Ons Bou - We Build". In 1989, the original Jan Kriel emblem from 1947 was also replaced with a newer version and the motto "Give a child a chance" was also coined. Although the Association of Friends of the Epileptic Child was founded in 1949, fundraising was strengthened with the establishment of the Department of Development. Through this, a network of donors, a healthy Reserve Fund and special annual events have been established.
The Liggieboom Festival (1991), Local Wine Auction (1992) and Tekkie Challenge (2004) still take place. The new Education Act has drastically changed the management of schools. The Governing Body of Jan Kriel School is then composed of parents, teachers and learners, while the function of the Dutch Reformed Church is limited to the DVO as an independent organization. Jan Kriel Institute, the 'sponsoring body' is registered as a program of Badisa and handles the fundraising, properties and preparation of assets.
In 1996, the Education Policy's Schools Act changes also meant that new subject choices could be offered. Jan Kriel emphasized vocational education by introducing certain N subjects. During 2001, special education was also placed on an inclusive basis, which meant that any barriers for learners had to be removed from the school system. This includes learners with neurological and physical barriers such as visual impairments, hearing impairments, medical limitations and specific learning difficulties. Jan Kriel School caters with great success for learning disabilities such as speech, occupational and physiotherapy, as well as learning support for every learner.
Transcribers and technology also enable learners with significant reading and writing difficulties to obtain their National Senior Certificate. Since 2009, the learners have been trained in the use of computers that offer circumvention techniques for reading and writing tasks. The Center for Alternative Assessment and Learning Support (SAALO) was also set up in 2011. The center's software includes voice recognition components that reproduce verbal commands in writing and a function that scans written portions to convert into a voice file. In 2013, more classrooms were developed to accommodate the younger learners.
In 2022, the LOGO learning center was completed. The Learning Support Growth and Development center enables learners to manage their education successfully. It has been developed specifically for the Foundation and Intermediate phase learners and especially supports learners with hearing, sight and reading barriers. The school's main entrance, parking lot and stormwater system have also been upgraded.
Currently, the 28ha grounds house 52 boarding learners and 530 day learners. Jan Kriel School looks after Foundation, Intermediate and Senior phase learners with a growing number of learners. The school also owns 19 buses that travel more than 1200 kilometers daily to pick up day learners and bring them back home. 51 teachers, 20 class assistants and 22 therapists provide the best possible teaching and support. Together with 11 administrative, 22 residence and 33 maintenance staff, the more than 580 learners get the best chance to make a success of their future regardless of their learning ability, medical condition or disability.
The success of the school is unthinkable without the support of donors. Friends of Jan Kriel have been looking after the current and future interests of the learners for 85 years.