Umhlali Preparatory School celebrates 100 years

Umhlali Preparatory School. Photo: Chris Allan, Peppermintpix.

A lot has changed over the past 100 years since Umhlali School opened with just 14 pupils on the roll.

Over the past century, the once small farm school has grown to more than 1000 pupils, and has become an integral and deep-rooted part of the North Coast community.

It’s hard to believe that exactly 100 years ago this week, on 11 February 1918, Umhlali Preparatory School (or Umhlali Government School as it was known), first opened its doors.

Situated amidst the rolling sugar cane farms of Umhlali, the school has grown from very humble beginnings, having started out in what was then the local farmers’ meeting and concert hall – a far cry from the beautifully modern buildings and sprawling green fields we see standing proudly in the same location today.

In the beginning, pupils made their way to school by foot, mule, cane truck or train, which often meant only one or two children arriving for school due to inclement weather and bad roads. In fact, the early years saw the school facing a number of adversities such as measles and malaria outbreaks and severe floods.

But, through sheer determination and hard work on the part of the community, Umhlali flourished.

The staff of Umhlali Preparatory School, 2018.

The 1970’s marked the beginning of a new era for the school, with the opening of the new school building in 1975 and the new sport grounds, tennis courts and state-of-the-art facilities that all came to fruition in the following years.

Having dedicated more than 37 years of her career to Umhlali Preparatory School, well-known and loved teacher Rose Ferguson recently received a long service award. She says she thoroughly enjoyed her life as a ‘rural school teacher’ and still loves teaching at UPS today.

“The Ferguson family have strong ties with Umhlali Preparatory School. My mother-in-law, Mrs Hazel Ferguson, attended Umhlali with her three sisters in the 1930’s and she later returned to teach here. Her children also attended Umhlali and one of her daughters also came back to teach at the school.

Also read: A day to remember at Umhlali Prep

“Many of my past pupils are married and have remained in the area, sending their children to Umhlali. On a chance meeting with past pupils, it is so motivating to hear them recall, with delight, a lesson or interesting occasion which they remember fondly,” she says.

This year, as UPS celebrates its Centenary, yet another new era is being ushered in for the ‘school in the sugar cane’ and its pupils.

Celebrating her 20th year as principal, Mrs Astra Russell says that Umhlali is one of the most respected schools in the Durban area, especially amongst other primary and high schools.

“It is a leading school on the North Coast and its success is down to its dedicated teachers, involved parents, polite pupils and generous sponsorship from benefactors, parents and the community.”

Mrs Astra Russell, principal.

Having spent more than 45 years of her life as an educator, Mrs Russell says she and the teachers at Umhlali Preparatory still believe pupils should start their schooling careers with the basics solidly in place, namely reading, writing and arithmetic.

She says that going forward, the school will be positioned around improving and differentiating teaching structures, to ensure the children become creative, critical thinkers.

“It is a proud moment for me to see the school celebrate 100 years.

“The school has grown with the community, but it still has the same ethos it had from its humble beginnings. Umhlali Prep has remained the heart of the community.”

Umhlali School governing body chairman, Jonathan de Wet, shares this sentiment: “There is no argument that education excellence is one of South Africa’s priorities. I am proud that Umhlali is a shining example of what can be achieved by a community that wholeheartedly supports its local school.

“Our success is founded on co-operation between the government, our generous community and parents, our fabulous staff and, of course, our precious pupils.

“Our Centenary year is an opportunity to celebrate our achievements, and to give thanks to everyone who has contributed to our success. I am excited to be chairman of the school governing body at this time. Our next 100 years will provide us with a new set of demands, and I have no doubt that Umhlali Prep and our North Coast community will answer those challenges, ‘with all our might’.”

>>  Ready to say ‘I Do’ on the Dolphin Coast? Meet the team ready to advise, help and deliver on your big day.

>>  Visit our Education feature for a collection of all the best schools, tutoring systems, and even some colleges and training facilities on the North Coast.

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Leah Shone

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