Bellavista School

Private Property South Africa
Claire Fraser

Bellavista School is an independent preparatory school for children who, although they have learning potential, experience specific or generalised learning difficulties that hinder their success in the mainstream schooling environment. Catering for Grades 0 to 7, Bellavista is located in Birdhaven, close to Wanderers and Rosebank in Gauteng. The school moved permanently to these premises in 1969, after being given notice on the original building in St Georges Road, Parktown. The school worked out of prefabricated rooms until the improved building plan was completed in 2008. The resultant spacious classrooms, Science and Reading Labs, Art, D & T, Music and Drama rooms, well-equipped therapy rooms as well as a state-of-the-art Gross Motor Room provide the students with premium facilities, including child-centred playgrounds and lovingly-tended gardens, conducive to learning and assessment. Pupils at Bellavista are assisted in overcoming their learning difficulties through the specialised nature of the school, comprising a highly qualified and devoted staff body including class teachers, specialist teachers, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, remedial therapists, and psychologists. The staff works in conjunction with the pupils and parents to meet the needs of each individual child based on his or her specific needs, aided by small classes and regular one-on-one or small group therapies. The school operates within the ideology that each child has strengths and weaknesses. It strives to maximize the student’s ability to capitalize on these strengths whilst helping the child to best develop strategies to cope with weaknesses and work to their maximum potential. Although very personal and dependent on the background of each individual, the ultimate aspiration is to mainstream the pupils to regular schools. Many pupils have successfully gone through the school systems and graduated from university, which shows the efficacy of the cognitive skills imparted at Bellavista. The curriculum is outcomes-based and meets National Curriculum standards, with a focus on cognitive thinking, shared problem-solving, co-operative learning and efficient study skills. The Cognitive Enrichment Programme, based on Feuerstein’s theories on metacognition, is an example of an approach that is integral to the teaching and learning taking place at Bellavista School. A series of cognitive tools and blocks are taught in dedicated lessons and are mediated in an integrated manner, giving the learners more insight into their own thinking and learning. Further to this, Instrumental Enrichment, also a cognitive-based programme developed by Feuerstein, is implemented actively. This programme uses a series of instruments, e.g. Organisation, Comparison, Orientation in Space and Analytic Perception, to teach strategies, language and concepts linked to each instrument. By using the above programmes, both incidentally and explicitly, students are able to use this knowledge to inform their own learning. Aimed at enhancing the learning experience and fortifying what happens in the classroom in an entertaining manner, Bellavista also holds annual themed programmes, such as Book Week and Cultural Diversity Week. Through such, the theme runs throughout the school for the week and includes guest speakers, outings and activities. Periodically, Bellavista also holds school concerts where grade productions are put together under a central theme. This often showcases the extent to which learners have overcome problems in order to simply participate in the production. Winter Markets are also held, where goods are produced by each grade, which they sell to raise funds for their respective grades. This helps to develop the various entrepreneurial skills required to fulfill the task. Grade 7’s also take part in a Business Project, which follow the same principles as the Winter Market, for individual assessment over a period of six weeks. Proceeds are split equally between a charity of the learners’ choice, the Grade 7 fund and to the individual learner. Bellavista has a wide range of co-curricular activities available. These include Art, Drama, Chess, Tennis, Archery, Volleyball, Softball, Cross Country, Rock Climbing, Cricket, Soccer and Netball. Bellavista has a variety of sporting teams that compete in leagues against other Johannesburg schools, with a few of its pupils having being selected for provincial teams. The school runs a social improvement programme where information and research on learning difficulties are shared with the greater community. As a part of this, staff members run workshops for parents and other educators. Bellavista also co-ordinates a number of outreach programmes, including the adoption of KweZwe Nursery School in Alexandra, whereby children and staff make weekly food contributions, partake in fundraising activities and offer care and skills training to those involved in the nursery. The Bellavista Assessment and Training Unit is an additional section to the school that assists learners experiencing difficulties in their current learning environment, with children coming from as far afield as Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya and Botswana to undergo a multi-disciplinary assessment. Linked to the Bellavista Assessment and Training Unit is the Bellavista Graduate School. The Graduate School offers literacy specialist qualification. This one-year, part-time course offers training in the assessment and remediation of literacy difficulties in school age pupils, including dyslexia. Bellavista endeavours to equip schools by training one teacher at a time with specialist knowledge to meet the needs of those individuals experiencing literacy difficulties. In addition to this, 2011 marks Bellavista’s involvement in co-hosting the Reggio Children Conference alongside St Mary’s and The Ridge. The conference stems from an international commitment to the prevention of anything tantamount to World War 2 repeating itself in world history through the development of a system of child-based education. The attention to this methodology stemmed from the Italian town of Reggio, whose citizens initiated the development of the system. The first South African hosting of the Reggio Children Conference is largely owing to Bellavista and St Mary’s sending representatives to last year’s training in Italy. This year, Bellavista are sending representatives to the International Cognitive Conference in Boston, USA as well as the British Dyslexia Association Conference in the UK.

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