Children with special needs, who live on wine farms and townships in Stellenbosch and Somerset West, are being given a major developmental boost in a new critical skills development programme funded by the Distell Foundation.
The after-school programme run by the Pebbles Project Trust, caters for about 260 children, mostly from grades 1 to 7 and focuses not just on improving foundational skills for school learning but also on a wide range of other abilities.
Every day after school, the learners spend the first part of the afternoon completing school homework, with teachers on hand to help with problems. The rest of the time is spent on structured activities to enhance their physical co-ordination and motor skills, their emotional and behavioural development, their proficiency in communication and numeracy, as well as on art, music and drama.
The after-school programme operates every weekday in renovated buildings on a variety of wine farms and is run by 22 teachers trained for the purpose by the Pebbles Project. Some have already worked in the teaching profession. Others are members of their communities who have been suitably skilled to take on the task.
After-school club programme manager Estée Heyns, who is the mother of two young children says: "Many children from marginalised communities lose out on the vital developmental skills in the early stages of their growing up and this keeps them from realising their potential as they become older. This critical skills development plan, conceived and produced by the Pebbles Project, is intended to enrich their lives and equip them more fully to participate positively as members of their families and communities."
Rolled out and implemented this year, the programme is already showing promising results, she adds. "The Pebbles teachers are enthused by the greater level of involvement shown by the learners and they positively reinforce each other. They are also reporting improvement in the kids' behaviour, their confidence and their overall skill sets."
The programme also has another major benefit. "Research shows that the hours from 15:00 to 17:30 are the peak period for criminal activities and victimisation. Children left unsupervised in the afternoon are more likely to become sexually active and be at risk of becoming criminally involved. With the children in our programme under supervision, their exposure to such risk is reduced."