Teacher of the year: Karla Swart starts pupil 'adoption' programme, sews each matric a mask

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Karla Swart started an Angels Programme at Willowridge High School to support pupils with financial needs. Through the programme, voluntary staff members anonymously adopt a pupil and care for them by providing them with basic needs and gifts, e.g. school supplies, data, etc. (Willowridge High School)
Karla Swart started an Angels Programme at Willowridge High School to support pupils with financial needs. Through the programme, voluntary staff members anonymously adopt a pupil and care for them by providing them with basic needs and gifts, e.g. school supplies, data, etc. (Willowridge High School)

Karla Swart teaches drama and is head of the arts department at Willowridge High School in Pretoria.

She started an Angels Programme at the school to support pupils with financial needs. Through the programme, staff members volunteer anonymously adopt a pupil or two and care for them by providing them with basic needs and gifts, e.g. school supplies, money for excursions, data, groceries, personal hygiene products, birthday presents, blankets, pyjamas and other thoughtful gifts. This is all provided for out of their own pockets.

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Swart also made considerable donations to the school's feeding scheme, including fresh produce, soup, pasta and 100 loaves of bread per week.

Before the lockdown, Swart organised various excursions to allow pupils to practically engage with their subjects. But when lockdown struck, this was no longer possible.

"During Zoom classes she held theme days where pupils would wear their pyjamas or hoodies or drink tea or coffee during class. The learners enjoyed it a lot as it made them feel part of something during unsure times," the principal of Willowridge High School Rowan Phillips said.

A number of pupils were unable to submit work or join Zoom classes due to data shortages. To assist them, Swart bought them each a R100 data bundle so that they didn't fall behind with their schoolwork.

When the matrics finally returned to school, it was not without some fear and apprehension. Swart made each one of them a hand-sewn mask in the school colours and embroidered their names on it.

"She also bought extra sanitising sprays to help purify the air, which the learners also appreciated. This made them safe and special," Phillips said.

Swart did all of this while maintaining her classes' good marks and raising a 5-month-old baby. Her pupils achieved eight distinctions for preliminary practical exams and of all the Grade 12s have five distinctions and a class average of 71%.

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