22 July 2015

Letter from the Head – 22 July 2015

Dear Parents

The third term is a term for consolidation and application to various tasks. I hope you and your families are all well rested and ready for this new term.

We welcome Mr Craig Verdal-Austin and his family to Somerset College. Mr Verdal-Austin is the new Head in the Preparatory School and he comes to us from St John’s College in Johannesburg where he was Deputy Head. With his depth of experience and excellent qualifications, he is sure to add great value to the Prep School at Somerset College.

After some delay, the Indoor Cricket Facility and Rowing Gym is ready. It is a formidable structure and I am sure there will be great excitement around its use. The Cricket Teams can only go from strength to strength as they can train in all weather conditions. We are inordinately grateful to the very generous parents who donated the funds to provide the facility. We were also reliant on many parents for technical advice and support. The legacy they leave is immeasurable and will surely result in superb cricketers being produced. I would also like to thank Etienne Briers and André Leibbrandt for their support in seeing the building through some difficult patches.

Our new classroom block and lecture theatre are likely to be fully operational only by the beginning of the fourth term but you will see much progress has taken place during the holidays.

There is an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. The problem with the proverb is that it does not advise us as parents how to get there or where that mythical village is! Metaphorically it certainly takes a collective effort to ensure that a child flourishes. Investing in excellent education is part of that metaphorical village.

During these past holidays, I was very fortunate to spend some time with a group of young people who had been out of school for ten years. All of them have made their way in the world and listening to them speak was an enlightening and encouraging experience. All of them had been to private schools either in South Africa or abroad; all of them spoke positively of the excellent preparation school had been for them. They were united in their gratitude towards parents who had sacrificed for them to attend good schools and they could list a number of points about school that had meaningfully enriched their lives. I was enthralled to hear how each of them affirmed the value of the Chapel experience even though at times they had bemoaned that time at school. They praised eccentric and hardworking teachers who had pushed them to think more deeply and they all spoke of how extra-curricular activities had enriched their school experience and proved useful in their now productive, happy and concomitantly successful lives. As I listened to these flourishing young people, the leaders of tomorrow, I couldn’t help hoping that this is how Somerset College students will and do speak about their College and their parents. As Matrics prepare for their preliminary examinations, I am sure the leaving is more prevalent in their minds than what it is they will be taking from here, but in a decade I hope they will feel that, in spite of the challenges of matric, they are well prepared for life and have a fabulous network of great people with whom to connect.

To return to the metaphorical village – there are certainly abundant parenting tips in all sorts of places. I recently read a blog which suggested four different tips which the bloggers felt would ensure that parents are saving for tertiary education rather than bail money. The writers of the blog used the acronym WACC as a mnemonic and suggested parents WACC their offspring.

The first of the four tips from the blog was unusual. Tip number one, W, encourages parents to Work on themselves.

The writers state that if you want happy children it is important that parents keep themselves happy and joyful. “Parental depression actually seems to cause behavioural problems in children and makes parenting less effective”. In a survey of 1000 families, Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making asked children, “If you were granted one wish about your parents, what would it be?” Most parents predicted that the children would request more time with them but they were wrong; the majority of the children wished that their parents were less tired and less stressed! According to Galinsky, stressed parents negatively affect their child’s intelligence and immune system! Similar results were reported in “The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play and Much More”. Just like the young adults of whom I wrote in the previous paragraph, research shows that studies of young adults measure themselves against their parents in terms of their career or relationship status. (Glasman 2002)

In brief then, I suppose this piece of advice suggests that it is important for parents to take good care of themselves in order to be good enough parents!

The A in the WACC stands for Autonomy and encourages parents to give their children room to be individuals. Much has been written about Helicopter Parents and Tiger Moms and I don’t want to dwell on that space other than to quote the research which indicates that children thrive when they feel that they are making plans for themselves and that their parents are not interfering. Children who are given a sense of autonomy and who are allowed to make mistakes and who have to fend a little more for themselves feel less likely to have to please their parents who may be living vicariously through their children. I think this is age-old wisdom understood by most reasonably intelligent high school parents.

Gilman (2001) cites that children who participate in structured extra-curricular activities (including clubs and sports) of their own choosing are 24% more likely to report a positive experience.

The two Cs in the WACC stand for Communication and Community but I will write about those in the next newsletter as this one has exceeded a readable length. I sincerely appreciate those parents who engage with these newsletters and who share important and valuable information which enriches the lives of others and the school community. I hope that you notice that many of your suggestions for speakers and ideas are included in our very full extra-curricular programme. It indeed takes all of us to help children flourish and it takes all of us to build a great College that will hold our children in excellent stead as they build their futures.

Have a wonderful, HAPPY term and I hope your children get to experience autonomy and that you have a great deal of fun both at school functions and elsewhere. There is Pops to look forward to and also Founders’ Day on Saturday 22 August. Derby days this term are at Westerford and Parel Vallei and we encourage students and parents to attend if at all possible.

Yours sincerely
Meg Fargher