A Special Visitor From South Africa
Laura Peppetta, an educational consultant who has been working with GLP to develop programs at Thabisile Primary School in South Africa's Soweto Township visited with Chatham Day School students, faculty and staff bearing messages and well wishes from Thabisile Primary School in South Africa.
Donna Greco, CDS Community Service Director and Laura Peppetta
During the week of February
7-11, 2008, Mrs. Peppetta met with students in Donna Greco's seventh-grade
Leadership class as
in fourth and sixth grade who are participating
in the School-To-School Partnership program.
The visit was the first part of what may become a reciprocal exchange - with public- and private-school teachers from New Jersey (and perhaps other American locations) going to South Africa in the future.
The students at Thabisile Primary School, which teaches kindergarten to fourth grade, are overwhelmingly from lower-income families. According to unofficial statistics, no less than 1.6m inhabitants are squeezed into the 110-square-kilometer township southwest of Johannesburg (hence its name, Soweto - SOuth WEst TOwnship). Soweto is home to about a third of the population of Johannesburg, but contributes only about 4 per cent to its economic activity.
Laura and Andrew Peppetta with Christina Vanech. Christina first met the Peppettas in South Africa then then introduced them to CDS on behalf of GLP
"The rate of unemployment in our area still remains very high," Peppetta said. A 2007
report placed the unemployment rate in Soweto at 50% and noted
that 90% of households had fallen behind with their electricity bills
The challenges facing the area impacted the school. When a group of GLP volunteers were introduced to Mrs. Peppetta in August 2007 they were also invited to visit the school. When they saw the challenges facing the school yet the enthusiasm of the students and teachers to overcome all obstacles, they immediately decided that they had to help.
"Yes, South African teachers have much to learn from what I see here in the USA," said Peppetta, "but we can also contribute ideas and strategies." At
Chatham Day School, Peppetta tried to explain the differences between
Thabisile and Chatham Day School to the students.
"I was asked a lot of questions about what we are eating in South Africa," she
laughed. But drawing from her observations during the two-week visit
she also noted many similarities between the two educational systems.
Chatham Day School principal Dr. Pamela Fiander said the basic administrative
concerns are the same.
"Are the children learning? Are they on grade level?" she said. "We
both try to make accommodations for children who don't have the means
to come to school. We have the same experiences with parents - about
a third who are active in making the school successful. We have the same
goals of developing our teachers."
While she visited, CDS students demonstrated how much they have learned about South Africa's history and culture. The Chatham Day School faculty and students also presented Laura with a brand new Dell laptop which will allow Thabisile to become more productive.
Laura Peppetta (in black holding letters) with Pingry Short Hills Library Director Ann D’Innocenzo, Pingry Board of Trustees member Anne DeLaney and Pingry students who wrote letters to their Zuurbekom counterparts
On February 11th, Mrs. Peppetta
also had the opportunity to visit another nearby school, the Pingry Lower
School. A special morning meeting was held at which their Student Council
Representatives presented her with student’s pen pal letters which
she will deliver to Zuurbekom Primary School, another school that GLP
volunteers donated books to in 2007.
The Pingry students then saw a video created by students at the Thabisile School and listened to an inspiring presentation by Mrs. Peppetta. The remainder of the morning was spent touring the school and visiting classes.
A number of volunteers from
the original group will return to South Africa with GLP this summer to
continue their work at Thabisile. Mrs. Greco, Community Service
Director, and Board of Trustees member Lynne Rathgeber from Chatham Day
School will also travel to South Africa in August in preparation for
the second year of the School-To-School linkage with Thabisile.