Just like a tree with its roots deeply embedded, Bokmakierie Primary School stands out with its proud heritage for the community it serves, as it celebrates its 80th anniversary.
This school, according to principal Larry Lewis, is the oldest state-owned one in the Athlone area, with only two other schools, who were both founded by churches, being older.
Visible from the N2 highway, Mr Lewis said visitors were often astonished at the good condition of the school building, despite its age. That is exactly what the school wants to offer its pupils – a healthy, serene environment, as often the children are exposed to many social ills in their community.
“I often get feedback from people who visited the school and many cannot believe the discipline and good environment we created for the children here – and that is all because of the community we serve. Knowing the situation the children face outside these school gates, we want to make a positive difference in their lives. They were born disadvantaged, and we need to give them options. There is a big contrast between the aesthetics of the school and the community, and we strive to give the children the best. This is why we encourage them to sing our school song, We are the greatest. Ultimately, it does not matter where you come from, it’s what you want to be,” Mr Lewis said.
The school is proud of instilling good values, such as respect, honesty and commitment, Mr Lewis added. He also said they were proud of the school’s appearance, condition and, in particular, it’s cleanliness.
“We want to create a safe and secure haven, where our pupils feel happy and cared for. Another source of our pride is that the school continues to be a shining light and beacon of hope for the community it serves.”
Some of the challenges include the lack of funds, because of the economic situation in the community, the change in curriculum, which means teachers have to be retrained, rationalisation and being classified a Quintile 5 school – which means the Western Cape Education Department considers the school more fortunate, and thus give less financial support.
Mr Lewis said when he had to fill in the questionnaire which decided what quintile the school would fall in, he filled the form in honestly, “as a matter of principle”.
“The good condition of the school building counted against us. The irony is that three years ago, I applied to the department to have our school made a no-fee paying school, and it was approved,” Mr Lewis said.
The area, Bokmakierie, was named after a bird, which inhabited the trees in the area, up until the early 1920s. When Bokmakierie Primary opened its doors in 1937, the Bokmakierie bird was adopted as the emblem of the school. The first pupils enrolled at the school on August 16, 1937, and the school was officially opened by Dr Bennie Hewat on October 16, 1937.
The first principal, George Beukes, enrolled a total of 316 pupils when the school opened. Over the years, this number grew, and when the roll reached 600 pupils, the nearby Dutch Reformed Church hall had to be used to accommodate the pupils. The school building was later extended to its present form.
The medium of instruction also changed over the years. Initially, it only offered schooling in English, then it moved to dual medium (English and Afrikaans) to Afrikaans only, and in 1995, it became an English-medium school again.
Mr Lewis, who has been at the school for 39 years – serving as principal for 25 years – paid tribute to all former and current staff members.
“Staff members, past and present, have often gone beyond the call of duty to make a positive difference in the lives of the pupils. They did this to improve the quality of life for all who have passed through their hands.”
The school already hosted a thanksgiving service as part of the anniversary celebrations. The next event is a snack dance, which will be held on Friday October 20, at the Holy Nativity Church Hall in Hazendal, from 7pm to 12.45am. Tickets are R100 each. Cheese and wine will be served on arrival, and the Strand Combo Dance Band will provide the music. Contact the school at 021 696 6257 for more information.