I trust our Cowan House families are safe and healthy and while this lockdown period presents huge issues for the economy and education sectors, I hope you are also enjoying some quality family time together.
Since the first week in March, when South Africa recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19, our lives have been consumed on every level (with constantly moving goal posts) by the need to assimilate news and new information in order to change, adapt, plan and then re-plan to cope with the Pandemic. Not to write about these measures and recognise the epic scale of the tragedy and associated anxieties would be remis, but I would also like to recognise the tenacity and perhaps elasticity of the human spirit to adapt; what seemed unthinkable and insurmountable two days ago, rapidly becomes the new normal, with the re-set button being required of us over and over again.
Many world leaders have drawn inspiration from past human endeavours to ‘make things work’ during events of epic change in history like the World Wars and the Spanish Flu Epidemic. I think of the massive shifts necessary to ‘make things work’ in each individual family home with hurriedly established work-spaces, communication platforms, care for the children of essential workers, daily routines … to the worldwide need to exponentially increase medical facility capacities in an unprecedented way and to provide financial and food relief for those in need. The rush to stay ahead of the curve has changed somewhat in meaning, as has ‘being at home together.’
Cartoons can provide commentary in a succinct manner, and one depicting the pre-lockdown hamster wheel of work schedules, school transport, lift clubs for sporting fixtures, ballet / piano / choir / marimba / karate, etc. lessons being replaced by the ‘turning wheel’ icon on the computer as families jostle for screen time on devices, work stations and Wi-Fi capacity at home, would be pertinent.
As we complete our second week of distance/online teaching and learning, I trust you have all found a routine and your days are generally more organised and less stressful than they were last week. It has been a learning curve for us all and much hard work, planning and strategising has gone into what your children are currently receiving on a digital/remote platform.
I also wish to thank our parents/guardians for the important role you continue to play in this process and for the overwhelmingly positive responses we have received. This is a real ‘team effort.’
On this note, thanks to everyone who has already completed the parents’ questionnaire relating to our distance learning programme. For those who have not yet completed this, please can you do so before the survey closes at 19h00 tonight. Feedback from this will provide us with valuable information in ensuring we provide an even better ‘product’ for your son/daughter during the remainder of the lockdown period. Feedback will be analysed, and adjustments made where necessary.
This Newsletter, therefore, aims to celebrate the resilience and efforts of our community – Parents, Staff and Pupils in adapting to the ‘New World’ wrought by COVID-19.
I extend my thanks to Dorian Larter (Head of Academics) and Sally Hallowes (Head of IT) for their enormous efforts in launching and managing our remote learning programmes and platforms from start of school last week. Both Dorian and Sally’s computers and phones are constantly abuzz fielding requests for assistance from all members of the Cowan House community – pupils, parents and staff.
My grateful thanks are, as always, extended to Colleen Cook especially in these difficult times. Her unflappable and calm manner has been appreciated by us all. Mrs Cook is involved in so many areas of ‘life at Cowan House’ and her position remains multi-faceted; I thank her for her tremendous assistance and professionalism during these challenging times – it is valued.
Next, I wish to thank our Phase HODs: Kerry Taylor, Chandré de Jager and Julie Meiklejohn for their work, not only in running their own class platforms, but in harnessing and ‘holding together’ their departments and staff. Upskilling for the change to remote teaching and transferring all work schedules and exercises to shareable formats has added enormously to the administrative demands of the school day. And then, there is the most important daily task of all – keeping in contact with our boys and girls. I am proud of how the staff have rallied to all these challenges.
Cowan House has experienced a few events in its past where the school community was challenged to do things differently in order to ‘make things work.’ A significant first involved the forced move from the school’s original setting in Mountain Rise to its current home on the ‘rise’ of Winterskloof.
Included below is the opening paragraph, written by Professor Burchell (Chairman of the Board of Trustees), for the Cowan House Trust Initiative of 1964 to raise funds to purchase the farmland and build a new school:
‘Those of us who have been privileged to be associated with Cowan House,
whether as parents or as pupils, look upon the school with pride and
affection. Now its future is threatened by the proclamation of Mountain
Rise as an area for Indian occupation. This critical event could mean
the end of Cowan House unless all its friends offer their full co-operation
As will appear from the pages which follow, very considerable financial
problems must be solved to make the move to the new site at Winterskloof
possible, and to secure the future of the school.
The Trustees urge each one of you to join them in supporting the
Appeal to the utmost limit of your ability and thus to become closely
associated with the future of Cowan House.’
Needless to say, the Appeal was successful, and Cowan House was able to open its doors to a new, first of its kind, wooden structure in Hilton in 1965.
Thirty-two years on, in January of 1997, an electrical fire reduced the wooden structure of the entire Boarding Establishment to ashes. A passionately supportive Cowan House community ensured that, by the end of that year, the Boarding Establishment was rebuilt – this time out of bricks and mortar. School continued as normally as possible, with boarders being accommodated in mobile homes on T-Field near the Theatre.
Neil Akal has more than risen to the challenge of ‘doing things different’ during lockdown in maintaining the extensive Cowan House grounds, and this has involved harnessing ride-on mower skills of his wife, Trish. The two of them, working in tandem, make a charming couple as they circle the fields. Dorian Larter is also to be commended for his role as chief pool maintenance officer.
Post COVID-19 exit plans are very tentative, and everyone is trying to balance the human cost of economic fall out vs the human cost through the spread of the disease. I have been in contact with ISASA as well as a number of other Heads in various forums, discussing different scenarios for when we do eventually return to school. There will be a need for protocols such as social distancing, particularly in the Dining Hall, Theatre and Boarding Houses, sanitising, temperature checks and even the wearing of masks. We do need to ensure that Cowan House is a safe and healthy environment when pupils return.
Our theme for the year is ‘Dare to be’ and as you should all recall our first term incorporated ‘Dare to be … BRAVE.’ In this very challenging and different world we find ourselves in, it has been decided this term’s theme will be ‘Dare to be … DIFFERENT’ (or do things differently, which I believe is very appropriate for the situation we currently find ourselves in.)
We await in anticipation as to what the President will be announcing tonight!
One thing is clear, however – when this is over, society will be fundamentally changed and more than ever the values of caring for each other, friendship and relationships will matter. Cowan House has always been good at this.
Best wishes to you all.
It takes courage for people to listen to their own goodness and act on it.
– Pablo Casals