Honour for Athlone School for the Blind

The work and efforts of Athlone School for the Blind in Glenhaven were recognised at the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) inaugural Recognition Awards.

The school, which caters for visually-impaired pupils from pre-school to Grade 12, received the UWC Excellent Community Engagement Partner Award for their partnership with the university as well as the Principal’s Award.

UWC’s deputy vice-chancellor for academics, Professor Vivienne Lawack said the Recognition Award rewarded the university’s top feeder schools, but other schools like Athlone School for the Blind also had the opportunity to be part of UWC’s community engagement initiatives.

“The award is to thank them for their contribution to UWC and the communities we serve.”

School principal Fletcher Fischer also received the Principal’s Recognition Award at the Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic School Recognition Breakfast.

“I am pleased with the award, and our collaboration with UWC,” said Mr Fischer. “We’ve benefited so much.”

The relationship with the school stems from trying times – during the Fees Must Fall protests in 2016, the school assisted the Centre for Performing Arts (CPA), allowing the academic year to continue uninterrupted at their premises, and ensuring that various facilities were made available for use. That’s when the CPA spotted the opportunity to return the favour.

“While lectures continued during the Fees Must Fall period, I noticed the Early Childhood Development learners’ need for proper infrastructure – not to mention more instruments and a structured music programme,” said Henriette Weber, director for the CPA.

Acquiring the funding to start such a pilot project and sustain it, was a challenge. During one of Ms Weber’s regular visits to the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport (DCAS) she asked whether there were any projects being undertaken for pupils with disabilities.

After a few months, funding was secured – R50 000 for 2017 – and a pilot project for an Early Childhood Development music programme for visually impaired and blind pupils at the Athlone School for the Blind was born. The funding would cover the purchase of instruments and the appointment of a part-time music teacher.

Currently there are 35 pupils in the ECD, Grade R and Grade 1 pupil group and 10 pupils learning to play the trumpet (senior phase pupils) receiving tuition, with the possibility of a trombone and French horn to be added.

Ms Weber said the award couldn’t be more well-deserved.

“Happy kids, happy teachers -quality music education for blind and visually impaired learners. It really is the people behind a project that makes a project’s success worthwhile.”

“We will continue to grow this newly established music programme,” she said.

Mr Fischer said they were able to upgrade their teaching facilities, acquire much-needed instruments and employ music teaching staff for their Early Childhood Development department and benefit from their expertise, thanks to the university and Ms Weber’s intervention.

“Ms Weber’s role in securing funding for the school was a welcome boost for us – especially since the school curriculum changed and music at our school was forced to take a back seat. This was really sad for us; especially since this school used to be known for its musical contribution to society,” said Mr Fischer.

The ECD music programme has now expanded to include Grade R and Grade 1 pupils and a music therapist, Kirstyn Botha, has been appointed to create a more focused approach to the programme with the aim of designing an ECD music curriculum for blind and visually impaired pupils.

Dr John Philander, deputy principal at the school and a clinical psychologist, said the programme had already had a positive impact on their pupils’ self-esteem and ability.

“We can see how playing an instrument is not only beneficial as a skill development exercise, but also serves as a therapeutic outlet for our learners.”