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Meet our 2020 Teacher of the Year: Karla Swart

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Teacher Karla Swart with her pupils
Teacher Karla Swart with her pupils

Mrs Karla Swart was voted, by you, as our 2020 Teacher of the Year!

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

One of the reasons she was nominated for the Super Schools competition is because she started an Angels Programme at the school to support pupils with financial needs.

Through the programme, staff members volunteer anonymously to adopt a pupil or two and care for them by providing them with basic needs and gifts, all provided for out of their own pockets.

READ |  Here they are: Your Super School, Teacher and Class of 2020! 

Learners in need 

Swart told Parent24 that she was motivated to set up this programnme when she became aware of the learners who were struggling to afford basic needs like hygiene products and stationary.

"We have a care bear system at the school amongst the staff, where you care for a fellow teacher anonymously. I used that concept, but applied it to these learners in need," she explained.

"I then opened up the idea to the staff and asked who would like to participate and received an outpouring of interest. The name Angels Programme came from the thank you letters the learners would write to the teacher: they addressed it "to my guardian angel". I made each participating teacher a list of basic needs for boys and girls and letter with their child’s name on and birthday," she said. 

Making lockdown learning fun

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

During the lockdown, she made Zoom classes more fun with theme days where pupils could wear their pyjamas or hoodies or drink tea or coffee during class.

"The matrics really enjoyed it and mostly wanted Zoom classes twice a day," she told Parent24. "We also read plays online and all the learners would then read aloud, assuming the characters they are reading which was also fun."  

"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.

To assist students struggling with data shortages, Swart bought them each a R100 data bundle so that they didn't fall behind with their schoolwork.

See the other 2020 Super Schools nominees and winners here

Hand-sewn masks 

And then when the matrics finally returned to school, Swart made each one of them a hand-sewn mask in the school colours and embroidered their names on it, which helped to dispel some of their fear and apprehension.

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

"My matrics told me that even though they were happy to return back to school that were actually also nervous and unsure about their safety," she told us.

"The school was well equipped with sanitizers, but at that stage people were panic buying and masks were scarce to find. I then asked my mom to help me make the kids fabric ones with their names embroidered on so that they don’t use each other’s and it’s more sustainable as the fabric ones could be washed daily and reworn." 

One of her students wrote to say how grateful he was. "it made me feel cared for and the name made me feel like I wasn't just another student at Willowridge during a pandemic," the student wrote.

"The effort was highly appreciated. I was grateful more because of the fact that you had a baby to take care of and work from school, but you still managed to take the time out and get us the masks!"  

It wasn't easy

That's right, Swart did all of this while maintaining her classes' good marks and raising her new baby boy.

"It wasn't easy, but the kids really like him so sometimes I had to teach with him on my lap, but I also have a wonderful husband and we tried to take turns to manage work and house chores and the baby," she explained. 

"I think it's important for teachers to be themselves and to be genuine and sincere. You shouldn’t be scared to take on tasks and use your interest to create fun school activities and programs for the kids," she said. 

Despite the pandemic, her pupils achieved eight distinctions for preliminary practical exams and of all the Grade 12s have five distinctions and a class average of 71%. 

See the other 2020 Super Schools nominees and winners here

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