History of Mindworks – parent engagement at its best

Thirty years ago, in 1989, two Sacred Heart parents had a bold idea: what if classes were suspended in the primary school for a whole week so that children could be offered enrichment experiences instead? And – there’s more – it would be offered by the parents?

It sounds crazy, concedes Marilyn Wood, who with Nicci Amie did just that in 1989. Both women were parents, and Marilyn was also involved in Zulu education. With Marilyn’s children Laurie and Lee in grades 5 and 3, respectively, and Nicci’s Tamsin in grade 3, the primary school became the focus of their endeavours. Tamsin Andersson is now both an alumnus and a current parent – of Taoana Lediba in Grade 6.

“We felt there was a need to do enrichment activities outside a formal school environment, and that for many children, this might be the first time they had been exposed to such activities,” says Marilyn.

Marilyn recalls that the Handspring Puppet Company came to do a presentation at Mindworks in the years as they were just becoming very well known. The Wits Astronomical Society also presented, and Mr Versfeld from the society came to speak to learners during a family braai in the evening on the top fields, as did the planetarium for nighttime star-gazing. They also had the Cradle of Humankind, Sci-Bono, and other weighty presenters.

Back in 1989, Brother Joseph Walton was the primary school principal and Ms Jenny Field is the only teacher who was teaching at the time, who is still at it, in 2019, at the same school. The junior primary school was still on the Yeoville campus, and Mrs Robyn Picas, with Sally Salamon, ran a Mini-Mindworks for Grades 1-3 at the Yeoville campus in 1991. She remained on subsequent MindWorks Committees until 1998, when she joined the SHC staff (later to become our Primary School principal).

Another MindWorks enthusiast was Elinor Lowry, who taught at SHC and then was a parent (along with husband Stephen Lowry, who was the High School principal for a while). She recalled a highlight from 2007, a year she was involved in MindWorks with Benita Pavilevic, when a parent made a putt-putt course for MindWorks from scrap metal in his back garden.

Elinor recalls: “He set it up on the top fields. He built the clubs, and three full putt-putt bases. One had MINDWORKS on it, another had 2007 and another had a nuts-and-bolts-man atop a row of circles that you had to flick your ball through.”

For the first few years, MindWorks was offered every year, eventually moving over to a less gruelling biannual rhythm. Eventually, staff came around to the idea (despite some initial resistance) so that a MindWorks levy was eventually added to the budget, enabling parents to offer some paid-for external presentations.

Article written by Margot Bertelsman – alumnus and parent