Holy Cross Primary has said farewell to one of its leading lights. Teacher Carlene Leukes left the District Six school at the end of last month after playing a prominent role there for the past eight years.
Ms Leukes, 54, of Athlone has spent 31 years teaching. She has taught previously at JS Klopper Primary School, Turfhall Primary School, Bergville Primary School and Hamilton Preparatory School in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal.
She originally wanted to be an attorney, but a lack of funds saw her go into teaching instead.
“Post-matric, with my mother being a single mother after my dad passed away, there was no funds to study,” she says.
Her late mother, Catherine Joemat, was on the staff at Heatherdale Primary School in Belgravia and so Ms Leukes became familiar with the teaching environment from a young age.
“The school was right next to where we stay, so on holidays I would go with her to school and I would play there and help her with any work she was doing,” she says.
When she joined Holy Cross, Ms Leukes realised that sheer determination would have to make up for the school’s lack of resources.
“I had previously worked at an impoverished school like JS Klopper, so it was my springboard, so I knew I had to make things work,” she says.
The school did not have a proper playground, but that didn’t stop her from trying to expand its extra-mural activities. “Just because we didn’t have a playground, we could still do other things,” she says. So the pupils played softball in the street, they had music lessons and learned public-speaking and drama skills.
But there are some things that can test the resolve of even the most tenacious of teachers, and Holy Cross has had more than its fair share of hardship and grief. In 2018, Ms Leukes had to visit the scene of the taxi accident that claimed the life of Grade 1 Holy Cross pupil Liyabona Mbaba (“School remembers boy killed in crash,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, August 9, 2018), and, at the beginning of 2019, she and other staff had to evacuate the pupils when a massive fire gutted part of the school (“Holy Cross Primary on fire,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, February 7, 2019).
Ms Leukes still puzzles over how she found the inner strength to deal with those tragedies. “I believe that God is instrumental in my life in helping me through those moments,” she says.
She believes in bringing peace to the chaos of difficult times so that education can triumph. She liaised with various organisations that helped to create a library at the school, which was named in honour of Liyabona. And when the school was recovering from the fire, she coordinated efforts to take an inventory of donations. She has also been part of the school’s Wordworks programme, which trains parents to better help their children with homework and projects. During the Covid-19 pandemic, she has been in charge of the school’s safety protocols.
Holy Cross principal Nomthandazo Zweni says Ms Leukes’s departure is a big loss as she was part of the school’s management team and support system. “She is a go-getter, she is someone that can think out of the box and when she does something, she neglects herself and puts the schoolchildren first.”
Deputy principal Paul Roussouw says Ms Leukes is a gifted, natural leader. “She wasn’t scared to take on any task and she will be missed by the principal, and she did tremendous work during Covid-19 to ensure that the school was compliant with the safety standards.”
Ms Leukes will now be working as a house mother at the Holy Cross children’s home in Parow.