This post was orginally published by MPILONHLE, one of our Implementing Partners in South Africa. MPILONHLE is using the Skillz Curriculum at two high schools in the Umkhanyakude District. You can read more about the excellent work they are doing by visting their website.

We’ve got Skillz

Picture 425The first major component of Mpilonhle’s new Community Sports Programme has officially launched. And the reviews are in: it’s a huge hit!

In partnership with Grassroot Soccer, Mpilonhle has introduced the “Skillz” programme in two pilot schools: Silehtukukhyana High School and Mkhaliphi High School. Grassroot Soccer’s Skillz curriculum creates simple but powerful connections between sports and life skills, particularly in relation to the stigma, prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. It’s a physically active and innovative way of encouraging students to think about and discuss these important issues.

With the support of school administrators and teachers, Mpilonhle has adapted the Skillz programme for use in the Life Orientation periods of these two pilot schools. Our well-trained team of peer educators – 4 at each school – are now conducting Skillz sessions several times a week, covering all of Grades 8 and 9. Nearly 800 students are currently registered for and participating in the programme.

The first Skillz sessions were held at Silethukukhanya on 31 August, with Mkhaliphi following one week later on 8 September. The response of teachers and administrators has been overwhelmingly positive. Teachers have quickly recognized the value of the Skillz culture and curriculum, and they have expressed appreciation for both the enthusiasm and professionalism of Mpilonhle’s peer educators who are leading the sessions. Limited by time and resources, we are already asking interested Life Orientation educators in the higher grades to be patient as we develop a strategy for expanding the programme into their classes.

But for sure, the most positive response has come from the students. The important health and life skills topics covered by the Skillz curriculum are serious in nature and are handled appropriately. However, due to the soccer-inspired, physically active method of curriculum delivery, Skillz is also a whole lot of fun. Students are fully engaged in the sessions and truly enjoy the activities.

There is perhaps no better evidence of the positive student response than that provided by the students in Grade 8B at Silethukukhanya. Their life orientation period is immediately after lunch break and several of the students were late arriving at the soccer field for the start of class. In addition, the class is very large, so registration took longer than expected. As a result, time was short and the peer educators were forced to wrap-up class just as the enthusiasm was building for the boisterous, primary activities of Session 1. The life orientation teacher explained to the class that they had unfortunately run out of time, and they needed to move on to their next period.

So how did the students respond? They organized a spontaneous sit-in and refused to leave the soccer field!

Now, Mpilonhle certainly doesn’t want to encourage students disobeying their teachers. But, to be totally honest, the spirit of the moment and clear message communicated by their sit-in was inspiring; a true testament of how much they were enjoying the programme. Soon enough, the peer educators made clear that they would pick up right where they left off when they come back at the same time next week – and every week after that for the next several months. Assured that they wouldn’t be missing out on anything, the students slowly stood up and moved on to their next period.

We are very excited about the future of the Skillz programme and our partnership with Grassroot Soccer.