When Virginia Vraagom started Sub A at Steenberg’s Cove Primary School in St Helena Bay, she had no idea that, 45 years later, she would be the school principal. And while her early days at the Western Cape school were filled with the three Rs (“reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic”), today she provides strategic direction and leadership to her colleagues, learners, parents and all the projects that involve the school.
By the end of 2017, Virginia will have spent a cumulative total of 40 years at Steenberg’s Cove Primary School. That’s dedication!
“I believe in myself,” she says. “I believe that my values, which include integrity, honesty, punctuality and reliability, have helped me to gain the respect and trust of my colleagues and learners, as well as the community, friends and family.”
Virginia believes success has a formula.
‘It comes from consistent hard work, effective planning and commitment,” she explains. “Without these traits, you will probably never reach the vision you set for yourself. In my experience as teacher, head of department, acting principal and now principal, I have learnt to persevere, set the example, and be a role model for everyone whose lives I impact.”
Virginia does not see her role as principal simply as a job or position to fill, but rather as a lifestyle that enables her to positively impact the lives of others.
“I love everything about my profession, especially when it comes to interacting with the learners, parents, my colleagues, community members and Department of Education officials in the province.”
She adds that for the past 39 years she has been living the dream to create a learning space for
everyone at the school and doing her best to choose appropriate teaching and learning methods to fit every learner and educator.
“Children must see themselves as high achievers,” she says, “so I make it my mission to help them believe that. I believe that personal and individual attention is the best for every child, especially the ones who are struggling.”
Winning the Best School Award prize sponsored by the Tiger Brands Foundation was the best thing that could have happened to enhance the basic functionality of the school, according to Principal Vraagom.
“To start every school day knowing how thankful parents are knowing that their children will receive the most important meal, a hot plate of porridge, to start the day, brings a sense of appreciation and gratitude. We are eternally gratefully to the Tiger Brands Foundation for investing in the health and well-being of our learners.”
Steenberg’s Cove Primary School is located in an underprivileged community, where unemployment and substance abuse are just two of the major problems. A large portion of the parents of learners at the school are seasonal workers, which means their financial incomes are unstable. Yet the people in the community make it a point to stand together and always look out for one another.
“They see our school as a beacon of hope and have lots of respect for the educators,” says Virginia.
Steenberg’s Cove Primary School has won several awards under Principal Vraagom’s leadership, including the National School Nutrition Programme Best School Award 2017, Saldanha Bay Municipality Award 2017, as well as runner up in 2011 and cluster runner up in 2016 for Excellence in Primary School Leadership.
Since the Tiger Brands Foundation’s breakfast programme has been implemented the school received the Rally To Read trophy for the best Rally Reading School, in October 2017.
Steenberg’s Cove is one of 92 schools that benefit from the Tiger Brands Foundation’s in-school nutrition programme.
“Because of the dire financial situation of many households in our community, some of our learners come to school in the morning without having had breakfast,” says Virginia. “Now that we are part of the Tiger Brands Foundation’s in-school breakfast programme, parents send their children to school knowing that they will get a nutritious breakfast before starting their school day. Our parents really appreciate this initiative, and are thankful knowing that their children are properly fed.
“As educators, we see a major difference in our children’s concentration, participation, academic performance and behaviour in class after they’ve had their breakfast. This is definitely the key to having a better attitude towards schools.”
Virginia says learners tend to be more active during class discussions after having their porridge.
“Some of them come to school in a bad mood due to circumstances at home,” she explains. “As a result, they sometimes refuse to do their schoolwork. However, after they have their breakfast, the “bad moods” usually disappear.
“Before the breakfast programme was implemented at Steenberg’s Cove, learners would feel tired, restless and irritable. The impact of the breakfast programme changes their mood and energy levels. There has been a huge improvement in participation and concentration. After the breakfast, they are ready to participate in physical activities.”
Virginia says learners’ table manners and attitude towards sharing have also developed.
Another notable impact came with learners choosing to eat well.
“Before they were used to – and would want – snacks and foods that tasted good but were not necessarily suitable for their developing bodies. Now that the foundation provides them with the right nutrition, they learn at an early stage what is necessary for good health.”
Since the programme’s implementation educators and learners have started a vegetable garden to further boost the nutritional value of the food they receive for breakfast. The school is also currently in the process of building a new kitchen, and have also built a library for the learners.
She concludes, “Encouraging sound personal development of learners is probably the most important part of being a teacher. I do not only want my learners to get the highest marks possible, but I want to prepare them to be intelligent, creative, responsible and compassionate citizens one day. After all, they are the leaders of tomorrow. Therefore, I motivate learners to rise above their circumstances, which are very bad in most cases, and achieve their full potential. I want them to have dreams, whether they are realistic or not.
“I always tell my learners that it is not necessary to aim to be the best, but it is crucial to aim to be the best that you can be. What learners believe about themselves is very important. They must believe they can learn and overcome – and learn from – failure. I try my best not to exclude any learner from the opportunity to learn or to develop on his/her level.
“I don’t do what I do for acknowledgement or reward. I simply love my children dearly. I want the best for them. I’m proud of them, and I thank God every day for that.”