Right at the entrance of the Weir Minerals offices in Kempton Park, we are greeted by a huge smile belonging to Freddy Kaniki, a mining engineer who in 2008 was among the first group of 20 boys chosen to attend the St John’s College Academy.
The academy is primarily focused on providing educational augmentation to those from disadvantaged homes around the inner city Johannesburg area.
Settled in a polished office boardroom with a warm cup of coffee, Kaniki wasted no time explaining how the academy played a role in grooming him into the man he is today, and why he believes he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for the academy, which invested in him and several other boys over the course of the past 10 years.
“My family and I moved to South Africa from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) when I was six months old and I spent a huge part of my childhood growing up in Berea,” he said. “Growing up in a family of five siblings, I could say I come from a very tight-knit family, raised by our mother who was the sole breadwinner of our family while my dad was stuck in the DRC.”
He said although he knew the difficulties of getting funding for his tertiary education as a foreigner born in the DRC, he always knew he had to go to university “to change the family situation”. He just didn’t know how.
His “how” came in the form of the academy.
The academy, fully funded by the school’s parents, members of the St John’s community and the corporate sector, has grown to having 72 boys enrolled in its programme after 10 years.
It continues to select candidates by observing their academic potential during their Grade 9 year. It does this by inviting each pupil to attend the academy’s afternoon classes on the St John’s campus, from their Grade 10 year right through to their matriculation year, with a special focus on mathematics, physical science, English and life skills, taught by the experienced St John’s College staff.
The boys are also provided with uniforms, books, notes, handouts and stationery, transport costs to and from the academy, a hot lunch, tuition and an annual camp, and provided pastoral care by the college chaplains, all valued at R10 000 per pupil.
The assistance continues after the boys’ matriculation, as the most promising achievers are assisted with bursaries or placed in learnerships.
Kaniki, who was eventually transformed from a participant in the programme to a district student at St John’s College, was also one of the beneficiaries of a bursary for his first year as a mining engineering student at the University of Witwatersrand.
“I am proud to have been a part of this programme and so is my family because if it wasn’t for the connections made through the St John’s Academy, I would never have graduated with an honours degree in mining engineering, which then allowed me to work [at Wier Minerals].”
He said because of the impact the St John’s Academy has had on his life, he has teamed up with a friend to start up a foundation called One Shoe too Many, which gives back to the community and boasts of giving away about 130 pairs of school shoes per year to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
He would like to see more private schools getting involved in programmes like the one run at St John’s, which benefit ambitious children who will, in turn, make an impact in the country’s economy.
St John’s College Academy director Agnes Nugent, who was integral in the establishment of the academy while still serving as the school’s head, said: “I spent 25 years at Barnato Park High School, taking care of the pupils from the inner city, most of whom live under very difficult circumstances.
“I wanted to do as much as I could to help, especially in education, because this is the way to uplift a community. The academy programme is doing just that.
“It was a privilege for me to be invited to run the programme after I retired. It is hard and emotional work, but what better way to use your time than by helping to improve the lives of others.”
In celebrating 10 years of the St John’s College Academy, they also announced the launch of the 2019 St John’s Prep Academy, where Grade 5 pupils who show academic promise from primary schools in the surrounding community will join the prep school three times a week for mathematics and English literacy support.