School celebrates 40th anniversary

Acting principal, Sandra Smith, former principal Hennie Petersen, former principal Ebrahim Abdol and former principal Alexander Volkwyn at their thanksgiving ceremony.

Woodlands High School celebrated its 40th anniversary with a thanksgiving ceremony attended by many of those who had had a hand in making the school succeed and prosper over the years.

The school, the second oldest one in Mitchell’s Plain, was called Woodlands Senior Secondary School Mitchell’s Plain Number 3 when it opened in 1978. At the time they had 280 pupils and nine teachers under the leadership of then principal Alexander Volkwyn.

In 1981 the school’s name changed to Woodlands Senior Secondary and a new uniform and motto – Scientia Liberat (Knowledge makes free) – were introduced.

Former principal, Hennie Petersen, who served from 2007 to 2017, said: “Throughout the early years, the school was always competitive on the sport field, our cultural society was well established, the nature conservation club and the school magazine were brought to life.

“For two years in a row we competed in the Argus Pick * Pay Cycle Tours in 2008 and 2009. Sadly some of these things came to a standstill.”

In 1983 there were 1 340 pupils and 66 staff members. “Over the years, the numbers dropped and rationalisation took its toll,” said Mr Petersen.

This year, they have 27 teachers and 850 pupils.

Since it opened its doors, the school has been led by five principals: Mr Volkwyn (1978 to 1993), the late Piet Philander (June to December 1993), Fredericks Synders (1994 to 1996), Ebrahim Abdol (1996 to 2006) and Hennie Petersen (2007 to 2017). Sandra Smith has been the acting principal since January.

Reflecting on celebratory events and achievements, such as matric valedictories and farewells, Mr Petersen said: “Woodlands staff went out of their way to make those occasions memorable for each matric learner.”

A very important and integral part of the school management is the school governing body or school committee as they were previously known, said Mr Petersen.

The school has had many tours funded by parents and pupils.

But there were also tough times in the school’s history, among these the times of anti-apartheid protests and what Mr Petersen referred to as “die boycott jare”. “Our teachers and learners were traumatised when the police helicopter landed on the school grounds. Some were even detained in police cells. Mass meetings were held and learners marched along the school fence to show solidarity. Mr Volkwyn would walk behind the learners for their safety,” said Mr Petersen.

And then there was the dawn of democracy, and in June 1995, Nelson Mandela visited Woodlands High. “This was a very big moment in our lives as he seemed very interested in the school and its learners. He even scolded our learners for not knowing the words to the national anthem and told them they need to practise it until they know it and sing it as often as they could,” said Mr Petersen.

A number of former Woodlands High teachers and pupils have also gone on to become principals, among them Oval North principal Na-aim Kassiem, Merrydale Primary’s principal Trevor Dilgee, Ronald Fortune principal at Cristel House and Donovan Senosi, the principal at Yellowwood Primary.

Reflecting on her history at the school, acting principal Ms Smith, said: “I started at the school in 1982, when I was 26. This will be my 37th year at Woodlands.

“I taught maths, maths literacy and later tried my hand at arts and culture and EMS (economic and management sciences).

When she started her career, said Ms Smith, women were rarely given the opportunity to lead.

But when more opportunities for women were made available in the 1990s, she said: “Men had to learn how to work under women, and so men have adapted to women leaders.”

Ms Smith became the head of department in 1994, then deputy principal in 2002. She was appointed acting principal since January this year.

Mr Abdol, who joined the Woodlands staff in 1979, after having started his career at Elswood in Elsies River in 1972, remained at Woodlands for 35 years.

“The relationships you build up here are special. I had a special relationship with teachers and learners. I miss that the most. Enjoy the moment teachers, don’t worry about tomorrow.

“If you feel you want to make a change, follow your heart and make the change. I could use my rare skills in education. Follow your heart and enjoy the learners,” he said.

Mr Volkwyn added: “As a principal, I gained much experience. My first post was in Cape Town as I came from the country life.

“I found there was a difference between the city child and the country child. In Cape Town they would play soccer and in the country they would play rugby. It was difficult to adapt to this but I learned how to.

“My time at Woodlands was great, a time where I learned about myself and the life I came to know different to that of me growing up in the country, a time in my life I will never forget.”

The chairperson of the school governing body (SGB), Maria Dankers, 65, from Woodlands said: “I am a parent of two sons who were raised in Woodlands. My sons both matriculated from Woodlands High. Today they are both mechanical engineers. (During) their time here they learned a lot and have grown tremendously.”

Jolene Johannes, 40, from Woodlands, a former pupil and SGB member at Woodlands, said: “We hope for the best for the next 40 years at the school. Parents should work hand in hand to make it a better place and a great success.