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UWC Principals’ Recognition Award: Athlone School for the Blind Early Childhood Development Music Lights Up Lives

UWC Principals’ Recognition Award: Athlone School for the Blind ECD Music Lights Up Lives

The experience of seeing a young visually impaired child respond positively to the sound of an instrument tugs at one’s heartstrings, but knowing your University helped create this opportunity, makes it even more rewarding.

But the rewards didn’t stop here: Athlone School for the Blind in Glenhaven, Bellville South received the UWC Excellent Community Engagement Partner Award for their partnership with the University at the inaugural University of the Western Cape (UWC).

The Recognition Award rewards the University’s top feeder schools, but other schools - like Athlone School for the Blind - also have 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,” said UWC’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, Prof. Vivienne Lawack, who organised the event.

The school principal, Mr. Fletcher Fischer, also received the Principals Recognition Award at the DVC Academic’s School Recognition Breakfast.

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

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

Ms Henriette Weber, Director for the Centre for Performing Arts (CPA) at UWC, 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.

The relationship with the School for the Blind stems from trying times: during the Fees Must Fall protests in 2016, the school assisted the 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,” Weber explained.

As always, to acquire the funding to start such a pilot project and sustaining it, was a challenge. During one of Weber’s regular visits to the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport (DCAS) she enquired whether there were any projects being undertaken for learners with disabilities.

“The Director, Mrs. Jane Moleleki, was very keen to engage on this pilot project, and from here meetings were set up between the department, the school and the CPA. The rest is history.”

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 learners 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.

“Thanks to the University’s intervention, and Ms Henriette Weber, we could upgrade our teaching facilities, acquire much-needed instruments and employ music teaching staff for our Early Childhood Development department and benefit from their expertise,” Principal Fischer noted.

In February 2017, 20 learners between the ages of three and five could resume their formal music lessons. The learners received group tuition (with groups of no more than four students), three times a week.

“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.”

A Musical Future: Growing The ECD Music Programme

The ECD music programme has now expanded to include grade R and grade 1 learners and a music therapist, Kirstyn Botha, has been appointed in order to create a more focused approach to the programme with the aim of designing an ECD music curriculum for blind and visually impaired learners. Botha has just completed her M.Mus. in Music Therapy from the University of Pretoria.

For six older children the programme afforded an opportunity to start with a brass programme which was added towards the end of 2017, with Mr. Clint Abrahams, a registered student at the UWC Centre for the Performing Arts, as the appointed brass tutor.

It already shows some remarkable success.

“The programme has already had a positive impact on our learners’ self esteem and ability,” explained Dr. John Philander, deputy principal at the school and a clinical psychologist.  “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.”

“Music has been our link to serving our communities,” added Principal Fisher, “and thanks to this programme, I believe we will be able to achieve this once more.”