‘Community school’ turns 90

The schools staff in 1963.

St Raphael’s Primary School turns 90 this year, and principal Ingrid Leukes says the community is the secret to the school’s success.

The school belonged to the St Michael’s parish of Rondebosch and was managed by priest James Kelly, who established three schools – the Convent High School, St Michael’s Public School and the Mission School. The latter was for “coloured” children and was called St Raphael’s.

These schools were run by the Irish Dominican nuns.

Because the apartheid government wanted to keep “white” and “coloured” schools apart, St Raphael’s Primary School moved to Lawrence Road in Athlone in 1929 after the land was bought by Bishop John Rooney.

Construction had started in 1928 after various firms donated building supplies, and in January 1929, the school opened and all the “coloured” children who had attended St Raphael’s in Rondebosch moved to the new St Raphael’s in Athlone, which was just one big class at the time.

In 1931 the school was run by the Holy Cross Sisters whose motto was “In Cruce Salus” meaning salvation comes from the cross.

Today, the school has 798 pupils and 21 teachers. Pupil numbers have more than doubled in the past 13 years.

Ms Leukes, who has steered the ship since 2007, said the school owed its success to the Holy Cross Sisters and the community’s support.

The school offers arts and crafts, rugby, soccer, music and other extra-murals. It also enters the annual GROWSmart competitions where pupils compete in maths, literacy, debating, and science.

Last month, the school won the debating competition and each pupil received R20 000 towards their education.

Raising awareness about meningitis and collecting money for cancer are among the school’s social-outreach projects.

The school gives points to pupils for good behaviour and deeds and they can redeem these for various rewards.

The school celebrated its 90th birthday with a thanksgiving mass on Saturday at St Mary of the Angels Roman Catholic Church in Lawrence Road, Athlone.

Because the school is on private property it doesn’t get any state funding for building maintenance, so it relies on fund-raising to pay for repairs and renovations, such as this year’s revamp of the bathrooms.

Ms Leukes said she hoped the school would retain its strong presence in the community.

“This school has such a rich history and has played a vital part in fighting against the apartheid regime. Families of stalwarts still call to host their deceased family members’ memorials here which shows how important the school still is.

“This is a community school where we’ve had generations of families attending. We haven’t had any break-ins for years now because the community has taken ownership of this school and they take care of it.”