After 45 years at Rio Grande Primary School, principal Brenda Manuel will retire at the end of the month.
Coming from a poor background, Ms Manuel, 65, left Alexander Sinton High in Grade 10 and landed a bursary at Salt River’s Wesley Training College. She felt she needed to start work sooner to help her mother pay the bills and take care of her siblings.
While at college, she noticed vacancies at Rio Grande Primary School and applied for a foundation-phase teaching post. She started at the school in 1976 as a 19-year-old teaching the Grade 4 afternoon shift.
After getting married in 1979, she had three daughters. She named them Abigail, Allison, and Bronwyn after pupils in her class whom she was fond of.
In 1982, while pregnant, she decided to finish matric, which she passed.
In 1995 she became head of department for the junior phase. Four years later, she took up the role of the principal.
In 2006, Ms Manuel completed a national diploma in education at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
“Then the Department of Education called to ask me if I don’t want to complete a school leadership course at UCT, which was an advanced certificate in education, which I got a bursary for, and I completed it. In 2010 and 2011, I completed my honours in education.”
In July this year Ms Manuel celebrated 21 years as the principal of the school.
The school has faced many challenges over the years, she says, including sporadic gang shooting, drugs in the community, nonchalant parents, child neglect, and now the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The community has really deteriorated, but that didn’t stop us from giving the children our best,” she says.
“The pandemic has been hectic for us and our pupils. Pupils stayed out often before the pandemic; now even more so. Some of our children are being gravely neglected by their parents, and the shooting in the community has really affected our school, but I enforce respect in all of our pupils despite their surroundings, but the way they deteriorate when they leave is shocking. I feel scared for the future of our youngsters.”
Despite the social ills plaguing the community, the school has not been without its achievements, and the school tours the pupils have been on to other parts of the country are something Ms Manuel is particularly proud of.
“We took more than 50 pupils on a tour every second year. We fund-raised, roped in our friends and families and made it happen for our pupils to show them the world out there. My mother and my family know that this is where my heart lies. Despite all the bad, the good memories will always stand out for me.
“I want to see less poverty in the community. The sky is the limit for our pupils, and I wish that parents can become more invested in their children’s education. One thing that I want the school to maintain is that our school’s door must always be open for parents seeking help with their children.”
Other than relaxing with her family, Ms Manuel has no big retirement plans.
“I started knitting and crocheting baby caps and toys two years ago, and I always donate the items to the Mowbray maternity ward, so I’ll continue doing that. My husband retired three years ago so we’ll just take it easy. I don’t know what I’ll do without this school. It has been a part of my life for 45 years. I am very emotional about this but it is time to move on.”
Grade 2 teacher Mymoena George, was a pupil at Rio Grande Primary School in 1971. She studied to become a teacher and worked alongside Ms Manual as her first teaching post in 2015. She hopes to plough back into the school all that she has learnt from Ms Manuel.
“She scolds me out quite often, but that was because she wanted me to be the best teacher,” she says. “We grew together, and we created a special bond both professionally and personally. She always helped me, and we are like one big family.”
Teacher Nadeem Staggie describes Ms Manual as a wise, helpful, good, warm-hearted principal who was always involved in the growth of her pupils and the school.
“She has always been an active leader, never just dictated,” he says. “She knows everything about the school and its pupils from Grade 1 up until Grade 7. I’ve learnt so much from her. I wish her well. She must relax and enjoy doing what she’s always wanted to do, which is travel. She taught us values, commitment to education, and passion for our pupils, and those are things that will always stay behind.”