The first thing one’s attention is drawn to on entering the office of Piet Hugo Primary School Principal, Werner Christou, is the supersize jar on his desk filled with toffees. On delving deeper into what makes this school work so well as a dual medium (English and Afrikaans) school, the mystery of the giant jar of sweets is solved.
Smiling amiably and sitting relaxed behind his desk, Christou admits to being guilty of ‘bribery’, seen in the context of rewarding, when it comes to the learners at his school. “The children can’t wait to accumulate 10 merit awards because then they know they can come to my office and collect a toffee. After each 10 merit awards they get a toffee and the fourth time they manage this, they get a slab of chocolate. This always goes with a few words of praise and encouragement for their hard work,” he explains.
He pauses, and a serious expression crosses his face as he answers the question of what makes his dual medium school so successful. “It is not just one thing that makes it successful. First of all, the learners know that when they enter the school grounds all ideas of racial, tribal, language and social barriers are left behind. We are all a team, the Piet Hugo team, I believe in investing in our precious learners because they are the future,” Christou explains.
He modestly adds that it is the teachers who do all the hard work. “They are doing a wonderful job, especially in the tough education system that we find ourselves in today. They are the core of every learner’s success and development.”
Christou says he also depends heavily on the parents of the learners. “I encourage them whenever possible to spend as much time as they can with their children and to really communicate and support them,” he says.
“Respect, loyalty and responsibility are the three things we try to instill in our learners. With these three qualities they will surely be successful throughout their lives.”
Christou began his own school career at Klein Ondeug Kleuterskool, which was the feeder pre-school for Piet Hugo Primary School. At that time, the school was an Afrikaans medium and was known as Laerskool Piet Hugo. He attended Laerskool Piet Hugo and then, due to his parents being transferred, he moved to Pretoria. He completed matric at Hoërskool Centurion. “After school I was all set to study Sports Science but I was contacted by my former Grade 1 educator, Hessie Breytenbach, who still lived in Polokwane and was still involved with Laerskool Piet Hugo. She wanted to know if I would be interested in taking up a learnership position as a teacher at my ‘old’ school. I really wanted to, and felt I could make a difference in children’s lives, so just like that I jumped at the chance!”
He started as a student teacher at Laerskool Piet Hugo in 2004, under the watchful eye of the very same principal he knew as a learner, Harry Viljoen. After 12 years at the school as a teacher, he took over as acting principal from Viljoen in 2016. This year he was appointed principal in a permanent position.
“My wife, Chanel is my absolute rock and pillar of strength; she is the driving power that always stands behind me and supports me.”
His plans for his school are simple: “I want us all to join hands and take the school to new heights together.”
Story and photo: KAREN VENTER