When high school head Boetie Ungerer decided – against all odds – to accept blind learner Bianca van Schoor at Curro Durbanville in July 2001, he could not foresee the difference it would make in her life.
Your parents, Lizette and Wikkie van Schoor, enrolled you at Curro in 2001 – why the move from your specialized school in Worcester?
I attended Athlone School for the Blind from Grade 1 to 3 and then went to Bellpark Primary, which is also a mainstream school. So, I was used to being the only ‘blindy’ among ‘sighties’! In 2001 my parents decided it would be good for me to continue my training in braille and learn to cope on my own, so I went to Pioneer School in Worcester. However, I struggled to adapt to life in boarding school; I missed home. After a lot of research, my parents discovered Curro – which at that stage was still in its infancy – in Durbanville. We decided to give it a go at the start of the third term.
What did the change entail?
For me it was a change for the better, although it meant very hard work. It enjoyed being back with my family and, in particular, away from the early wake-up times of the boarding school. The Curro staff and learners were very helpful. When there was homework on the blackboard, someone would tell me what it was so that I could memorise it. When we did comprehension in class, a classmate would read it to me quietly so that I could participate, or the teacher would spend time with me so that I could give the answer to him/her aloud. My classmates guided me from one class to the next until I knew my way. I participated in sport as far as possible, but after school I went straight home.
Exams were done by amanuensis: someone read the questions to me while recording the session and my verbal responses were then written down to be marked. Some of my question papers were sent to Pioneer Printers in Worcester to be converted into braille so that I could have the questions in front of me during the exam. This meant extra work for the school, as papers had to be set earlier. I also had my own braille machine and often submitted my written pieces in braille, after which I read it back to the person doing the writing for me.
My school career ended very well – I received a ministerial award from the Minister of Education at a ceremony held at Leeuwenhof.
And your parents; did they have to jump in and help too?
My parent played a huge role in helping me make a success of my high school career. Most of my homework and studies were done with my mother either reading the work to me or quizzing me. Late at night, when I was already asleep, she would rewrite all my answers neatly so that they could be marked.
My mom recorded most of my textbooks on cassette tapes. I would listen to the recording and make summaries on my braille device to study for the exams or tests. When the work was easy enough, I would memorise it. As my mom was a teacher, she had a good idea of what was likely to be asked in exams and I could concentrate on that. (Bianca’s grandfather is Willie van Schoor, a well-known teacher in Durbanville.)
Is there a specific incident or moment at Curro where you realized ‘I can do this’?
During recess, my friend and I used to sit around a corner against a low wall. Sometimes she would lie on top of the wall in the sun. One day I thought ‘I’d like to do that too’ and got onto the wall. It was easy, but I could sense how amazed my friend was that I could do it! In that moment, I realised that I would be able to succeed.
Achievements dot the CV of Johannes Slabbert like notes on a score. His LinkedIn profile lists ’37 jobs’ as part of his profile. He’s been lauded as ‘quite a stage lion’ in Finland, and ‘tall, dark and handsome’, with a ‘vocal heft far more mature than a 22-year-old’s’ in London.
Yet the 25-year-old baritone had started out as a shy Grade 2 learner who had left his former school because he ‘couldn’t quite manage English’. Tall, dark and handsome he is indeed today – and definitely proficient in English!
In 2010, when Johannes was 17 years old, someone posted a video of him on YouTube, singing Josh Groban’s hit ‘You raise me up’, saying the youngster has ‘the voice of an angel’ and that everyone should ‘check him out’. Since then, he has completed his Bachelor of Music (B Mus) at the University of Cape Town’s revered Opera School under the guidance of George Stevens and Kamal Khan, obtained his Masters degree in musicology and has embarked on his PhD specialising in vocal pedagogy at the North West University, all while appearing in opera roles on stages from Helsinki and Hong Kong to Dubai and Darling on the West Coast.
Name it and he’s done it: travelled to Germany with Mandela Trilogy, performed Don Giovanni in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Morales in Bizet’s Carmen, and Orfeo in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, and has been invited to the Johann Strauss New Year’s concert in Finland for three consecutive years. Apart from singing, he conducts, has lectured at Stellenbosch University until 2016 and recently – following his successful collaboration with stage director Raimondo van Staden in Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief – he reworked and presented Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus at a sold-out Artscape as part of Cape Town’s Suidoosterfees.
As if this is not enough, Johannes has returned to his alma mater as a teacher. He teaches singing on a part-time basis at Curro Durbanville.
‘The Curro of today is light years removed from the one I got to know in 1990. My most vivid memory is of “Juffrou Hilda” (Bosch) helping me to form my first letters and me sitting there, writing my own name for the first time.’
He also remembers the first year moving to the present campus.
‘There wasn’t a field of a day old. We played in the sand or mud, depending on the weather. I was no rugby player, but I remember the mixed teams, big and small, all ages, taking to the so-called sports fields. My parents wanted to enrol me at Curro because it was the only Afrikaans private school nearby. I remember how we all felt like learners in an American movie, wearing civvies! It had a flair. When I moved on to high school I missed the civvies by just one year. Curro was a small family; everybody knew everybody – learners and teachers alike. We were only 12 learners in Grade 2 when I joined. That was the big selling point. The attention to detail was almost painful, but it gave me a head start I could rely on for the rest of my life.
‘All the prizes and bursaries I received throughout my career – the Ruth Ormond prize for singing, the Elizabeth Clough music scholarship three years in a row, the Gregorio Fiasconaro Prize for operatic interpretation twice in a row, the Gobbato-Qavane Opera Bursary, even winning the ATKV Muziqanto competition in 2014 – I attribute to the music department at Curro.
If it weren’t for “Juffrou Myrtle” (Visser) and Head of Music “Juffrou Jeanne” (Maritz) teaching a tongue-tied kid how to sing on stage, I would never have been where I am today, or doing what I do today.’
When Lara van Rooyen walked into Curro Mossel Bay in Grade 8, she had no idea that she would walk out 5 years later as the top academic achiever for IEB within the Curro group – much less be accepted into Harvard University. ‘I was absolutely terrified to enter a new school because I knew no one,’ she remembers, ‘but everyone was welcoming and I soon felt like a part of the family.’
Lara enjoyed her time at school greatly and fondly remembers the personal connections formed with teachers and classmates. ‘We felt recognised and appreciated as individuals,’ she said, ‘and the school encouraged us not just to study, but also to build relationships and grow as people.’
Her teachers played a great role in helping her achieve. She has always been strong academically and was always interested in independent studies beyond the classroom. Whenever she had mastered the work well before her classmates, her teachers would give her extra work to help her practice, more difficult exercises to challenge her limits, or more complex work far beyond what was covered in the textbook. ‘They taught me to love learning for learning’s sake; not just to memorise information. I want to be a lifelong learner,’ she said. The combined effort certainly paid off when Lara achieved a 92.86% average in her final matric examinations.
Lara initiated Curro Mossel Bay’s community club that focuses on giving your time and care to the community. ‘Learners often become caught up in the stress of studying. I’ve found that shifting your focus to caring for others helps to reduce anxiety levels and teaches you a great deal about yourself.’ She proactively created interest among classmates and scheduled a meeting with the executive head, Jaco Olivier, who welcomed the idea and provided great support in launching the club. ‘The club is sustainable and last year’s Grade 11s have done a great job in keeping it going,’ she said.
Although she always had great dreams for her academic career, she never expected to get into an Ivy League university. ‘I just decided to apply and see what happens, even though the odds were overwhelming. I believe that there is a greater plan for my life and didn’t want to wonder what could have been.’ She was completely overwhelmed when she was accepted and is more excited than nervous about the big move to the United States. ‘I’m as nervous as you would expect, but I’m more excited for the opportunities that will open up,’ she said.
The United States academic year starts only in August, but Lara has no interest in sitting still until then. She has been studying biochemistry, physiology and biology, volunteering at the SPCA as well as the Centre for Exceptional Children – a school for children with autism and down syndrome – and has been making time for everything that she put off during her school career.
Her advice to learners has a strong core message: believe in yourself, work hard for yourself (not for others) and dream big! ‘Consistency and discipline were the greatest keys for me, as well as intrinsic motivation. You have to study for yourself; not for your teachers, parents or some reward. I worked very hard for what I achieved and wanted to be proud of my work and the person I am,’ she said.
‘I’m so ready for the next phase in my life!’
Lourens Vosloo matriculated from Curro Durbanville with the single goal of becoming part of the creative industry. From a young age, he had sculpted and painted gadgets and amenities for game figurines, and pencilled sketches with intricate patterns that could have been drawings on their own. He was glad to be in a school that promoted creativity and had the facilities to support his interests.
After school he pursued his passion for art and obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design from CTI. However, as much as his education had cultivated a great passion for learning, he found that it did little to prepare him for the rigors of adult life. ‘At the time I thought that I would be sorted with matric and a degree, but the world of job hunting was chaotic. Employers wanted years of experience I did not yet have,’ he said.
Therefore, Lourens studied further and gained experience by freelancing. ‘I learned to appreciate the importance of a balanced portfolio and the value of good reviews from clients,’ he said. His first full-time job as a multimedia designer at a mobile agency provided valuable experience and exposure to the industry, but still he yearned for more.
In January 2013, he started working at Capitec Bank as a media designer in the learning and development team, with relatively little knowledge of e-learning development or how to craft learning interventions. However, with an open mind and eager attitude he started to develop technical- as well as interpersonal skills that helped him adjust to the team as well as his new role.
Only later did he come to understand that he was in the perfect position to harness his problem-solving and creative skills – and to combine his two passions: creative expression and learning. Through hard work and dedication, he has grown into a specialist who can develop meaningful learning solutions from start to finish and has learned the value of humility, accountability and respect with the support of a fantastic team.
‘It’s been a fantastic learning journey so far,’ Lourens said, ‘I am truly blessed.’
Jana van Niekerk joined Curro Durbanville in 2004 as a high school student, following in the footsteps of her sister Sani. She immediately felt welcome and at home at the school. ‘I made such amazing friends,’ she said, ‘and I’m still friends with many of them today – 11 years after matriculating – while many people lose touch with their friends after matriculating.’
The small class sizes and interesting extramural activities allowed her to develop as an individual and realise her strengths. She fondly reminisces how Mrs Zietsman, her Economics teacher, Mrs Schmidt, her Mathematics teacher, and Mrs Hampton, her netball coach, inspired a passion for their fields within her that would shape her career years later. ‘I never thought that I would want to play netball, but my talent developed because of the individual attention and support from my teachers and coaches.’
After matriculating, she started studying Human Resource Management at Stellenbosch University. However, her interest in sports – netball in particular – was greater than her interest in HR. She played for Maties Netball during her time there and started coaching and umpiring netball at Somerset College in Somerset West. After becoming one of the College’s boarding house assistants, she started coaching their first netball team.
In 2014 she moved to Darling to be closer to her fiancé and decided to pursue her new-found love for teaching by studying education. ‘That way, I would be able to link my love for netball with my interest in Mathematics and Economics that was sparked by my high school teachers.’
In 2015, she started working at Hopefield High School while developing her career by umpiring at provincial level and playing for Moorreesburg’s first netball team. She happily returned to the Curro family in 2017 when she was appointed as Curro Langebaan’s head of netball and the coach of the first netball team.
During 2017 Jana’s husband decided to move to New Zealand for professional purposes. The farm he had been managing in South Africa did not have a clear career trajectory for him and New Zealand had a great need for Mathematics teachers – the choice was, therefore, clear for them. Everything fell in place quite quickly once their decision was made: He started working as a farm manager in New Zealand in February 2018 and she joined him in March 2018.
While finishing her degree she did odd jobs, such as being a teacher’s aide, and pursued her development as a netball umpire. In January 2019 she was appointed as a Mathematics teacher at Central Southland College, a secondary school in Winton. In the meantime, she also completed a qualification in netball umpiring and started coaching the first netball team for Linehill. ‘My goal is to get my New Zealand Umpiring qualification soon.’
Jana’s story shows how the attention and effort of a teacher can have a lasting effect on a learner’s life. Their inspiration allowed her to find her passions and left such deep footprints in her heart that she returned to their teachings, to her Curro family, and ultimately made a successful career of what had once been merely a hobby.
Her advice to learners is to enjoy the passion and support the teachers provide. ‘Curro is like a family that supports you and helps you develop, whatever your interests are.’
Liaan Ackerman’s journey has a unique symmetry. She saw first-hand how Curro laid its first cornerstones and watched it grow into a great school to which she recently returned as a teacher. ‘The school’s legacy is so exceptional,’ she said, ‘that learners and teachers return to the school to say hello or to enrol their children – they want to stay in the Curro family.’
Liaan was part of the Curro family even before she joined Curro Durbanville in Grade 4. As the daughter of one of the founding fathers, Eduard ‘Boetie’ Ungerer, she had a front-seat view – literally – of how the directors drove the first learners to and from school (which was held in a church at the time) in the dark blue Curro shuttles. At the end of Grade 3, Curro Durbanville’s school building – the current primary school building – had just been built and she jumped at her father’s offer to join the school.
‘From the first day, I was happy there,’ she remembers. ‘I fit in very well with the small classes, personal attention from teachers and family-feeling.’ The day before school started, the daughter of one of her father’s friends called her, exclaiming how much she looks forward to meeting Liaan and how they will surely be great friends. ‘She was right,’ Liaan said, ‘we are still close friends.’
The school didn’t have the facilities to offer mainstream sports at the time, so they focused on innovative, fun activities. ‘They were able to take chances on new and unheard-of activities,’ Liaan said, ‘because the school was so small and everyone would take part.’
One of these innovative activities was the summer sizzle social of 2003 that started with the school trying to beat the Guinness World Record of the largest box of popcorn – during school time. The teachers had built a giant popcorn box in the school’s foyer which stretches across two floors of the building. The box went up to the second floor’s railing and had plastic peepholes that showed how far it had been filled. ‘Each class had a scheduled time during which they had to make popcorn in the classroom,’ she remembers. ‘You were either a “popper” or a “runner” and during your class’s scheduled time you had to run as fast as we could to fill the box.’ That evening there was a great social with a dance floor, braai area, water slides and many fun activities – the learners even performed a choreographed dance.
Liaan was elected head girl in her matric year and fondly remembers an emotional moment at the matric farewell. The head boy and head girl traditionally open the dance floor, but instead of dancing with her date she chose to dance with her father – the man who had started her journey at Curro, along with the journey of so many others. ‘I am a laatlammetjie and have always feared not having my dad at the big moments in my life,’ she said. ‘Dancing with him at my matric farewell was a deeply personal and emotional experience for me.’
After matriculating, she studied BSc Human Life Sciences with Psychology, followed by a Postgraduate Certificate in Education. She taught at Curro Hermanus for two years and then moved to academic content editing at Pearson South Africa for six months. She greatly enjoyed working with content and being exposed to greater fields of learning, but missed working with children, which is her great passion. Therefore, after working at an outdoor holiday camp in Hong Kong for some time, she returned to South Africa and started working at Curro Durbanville. She even found the time to get married in 2018.
Liaan feels like Curro Durbanville is a second home for her, as its halls are littered with memories and personal heritage. She is constantly remembered of the school’s humble beginnings and the role her father played in its establishment: the tuck shop reminds her of how she used to run to his office to get money for a chicken-mayo sandwich; the hallways often take her past his former office; the hall has a plaque with his name as a founder. ‘It’s great to be part of that history,’ she said.
Her advice to current learners is to participate in everything they can, whether competing or watching and support from the stands. ‘When you participate in activities, you build a relationship with your classmates and teachers in a way that is not possible during class,’ she said. ‘Also, the chances of winning or taking part in a final is that much greater because the Curro schools don’t have thousands of learners and the attention you get from coaches or tutors is that much greater.’
Liaan hopes to inspire and guide her learners the way her teachers inspired and guided her. ‘My teachers were always willing to spend extra time with their learners, and to give us extra work and attention when we needed it.’ She hopes to honour her teachers, her father, and her school by giving her best and continuing the story. ‘I am grateful for being part of this amazing legacy.’