Newly opened school addresses pupils individual needs

2016-05-11 06:00
Founder of Grey Park Academy, Rene van Tonder with her daughter Carmen van Tonder (left) who is the school’s secretary.                                  Photo: SASHIKA PILLAY

Founder of Grey Park Academy, Rene van Tonder with her daughter Carmen van Tonder (left) who is the school’s secretary. Photo: SASHIKA PILLAY

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AFTER witnessing first-hand the effects of severe family trauma, Rene van Tonder, who is a mother of three, decided to open a school where she could assist pupils with academic demands while working through the emotional trauma they have experienced.

Newly opened Grey Park Academy is situated in Walmer and caters for learners from Grade 1 to 12.

The school’s aim is to assist children who have experienced some form of trauma, in coping with not only that trauma, but the academic demands that have to be met, irrespective of the emotional impact.

Van Tonder, who studied a B.Ed with psychology majors, said the reason she decided to start Grey Park Academy was due to her family experiencing the emotional impact of having to deal with loss.

“In 2014, my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The doctors gave him 3 to 6 months to live. My son was in Grade 11 and my youngest daughter in Grade 3. My eldest daughter was 20.

“The impact of such a diagnosis is indescribably hard to put in words. The bottom literally drops out of your world and you are floated into an alien world of despair, anger, hopelessness – a distraughtness of unimaginable proportions hits you,” van Tonder said.

“Each family member tries to cope in their own way. The pillar of our household, the one who could have carried us through any trauma, became the trauma and we floundered in our abnormal worlds while trying to be as normal as possible. We packed up house and moved to PE.

“February 2015, my husband passed away. Our devastation was complete and we were hit with a new set of emotions. My son was in matric. When I surfaced from my daze in September, I realized that the record exams were 2 weeks away. My son fell into a very dark depression and it fell to me to get up at three in the morning, learn his work and teach it to him. By the grace of God alone, he passed matric,” she said.

Van Tonder added that her experience made her realise that no matter what life throws at pupils, they are expected to be okay, to pull through on the academics which are compulsory at least until the age of 16.

She mentioned that parents may be fighting their own emotional battle after a divorce or death and not necessarily be in a position to support their child emotionally.

“No matter how you look at it, the child needs to cope with the trauma and somehow pull through on academics. It is my desire to not only assist children who have walked a cancer path or lost a parent, or any trauma – rape, abuse, divorce, alcoholism. The emotional trauma is the same.

“The outcome can have detrimental effects on a child. And if they fail a year because of a system that is just rotating on its daily axis and leaving them behind, the child is set up for even further problems,” she said.

The environment at Grey Park Academy ensures that the pupil is able to learn what is required on an academic level. Emotional support, understanding and any other professional help are provided as well.

“I offer the child as well as the parents a support structure to lean on. I have encountered a few sad stories as I have marketed myself at the schools and psychologists – there is a definitive need for the type of service I am offering,” van Tonder added.

Grey Park Academy classes are kept small and offer personal attention. The school is passionate about assisting each pupil to achieve their full potential despite what life throws at them.

The school has normal hours from 8am to 1:30pm. Parents are kept informed about their child’s progress and are encouraged to be involved in their children’s education.

Post matric students who need to improve their results or change direction in career and require to take on a new subject, are also accommodated.

For more info about Grey Park Academy, email or contact Rene van Tonder on 078 173 3024.

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