This year, Quest School – the first Eastern Cape school founded for children with autism – celebrates 21 years of existence, having grown from a tiny school with only six pupils to a large school with a hostel and computer lab accommodating nearly 100 pupils today.
Quest was originally housed in an old church building when it first opened its doors in 1995, but today occupies much bigger premises in South End, Port Elizabeth.
The school’s journey began thanks to the support of the Jeeva Foundation. The Foundation bought the school’s first building in Uitenhage. When the school outgrew the building, the Foundation bought the house next door, and converted it into a hostel for some of the learners.
Quest School is now the only government subsidised school in the Eastern Cape catering for children with autism between the ages of 5 and 18.
School principal Lottie de Vries said “The school’s doors are open today because of the many volunteers and communities who have over the years’ endlessly supported our school.”
In 2001 the school relocated to South End in Port Elizabeth, to an old school building owned by the Department of Education. Today the school caters for 89 children, and has 13 teachers and teaching assistants, 12 housemothers, a principal and administrative staff. The therapy department employs an occupational and speech therapist.
Principal De Vries says the school continues to receive support from the Jeeva Foundation.
“They have been with us from the very beginning. When we relocated to the new school, they continued to help by providing groceries for the hostel. They repaired our mini bus which is used to transport children and also provided beds for the hostel,” said De Vries.
Munir Jeeva, a trust member of the foundation, visited the school this month and said staff were doing “incredible work with the children”.
“These children must be seen and heard, and have the right to an education. The school offers an individual education plan for each learner, and also prides itself in teaching in three official languages – Xhosa, English and Afrikaans – which is remarkable,” said Jeeva.
He encouraged other businesses to support the school.
“The school has a computer lab which was donated by MTN Foundation, through the visit of the Deputy Minister of Social Development, honourable Henrietta Bogupani Zulu. This is the type of support businesses can offer,” said Jeeva.
The programmes offered to the learners at the school help them with job-readiness skills including a recycling project, in-service training and job placement at different companies, an echo-brick project where plastic bottles are filled with plastic bags and then used by organisations to build houses, as well as admin support for Ironman and office skills.
The school follows the same terms as mainstream schools. They follow the CAPS curriculum, but often have to adjust in places. Through the computer lab the learners are taught how to send emails, open and work in Word documents and compile Power Point presentations.
While the hostel has the capacity to accommodate 40 learners, it currently hosts 19 boarders.
Autism is diagnosed four times more often in boys than in girls. Children diagnosed with an Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) suffer with a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioural challenges.
Jeeva added that although the school currently received a subsidy from the Department of Education, it was still heavily reliant on charitable donations from the community and volunteers.
“Quest report their progress and their needs to the Jeeva Foundation every year, and we then include their needs in our yearly budget,” he said.
Meanwhile the old building in Uitenhage has been taken over by the Sunshine Special School which caters for children with special needs. That school is also supported by the Jeeva Foundation.
Image: NEW SKILLS: Munir Jeeva of the Jeeva Foundation visited Quest School in Port Elizabeth this month. Munir and Quest principal Lottie de Vries in the computer lab with some of the learners using the computers.