How a South African school business adapted to 2020

A longstanding school business: 'Sustainably Yours' at The Birches

The Birches Pre-Primary School in South Africa has been taking part in our flagship programme, the School Enterprise Challenge, since 2012, when they started their eco-friendly business ‘Sustainably Yours’. Since then, the business has become a central part of the school, and allows children to learn life skills from a very young age.

This award-winning school business was not about to let the pandemic get in the way of students’ practical learning! They have completely adapted their school business to continue running in spite of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 restrictions in South Africa.

In March, school closures were announced across the country. Schools started reopening in June, but this was quickly followed by a decision to re-close schools for four weeks in July/August. Since August, schools have been adapting their timetables to reduce risks of spreading the virus: in the case of The Birches, this means that students were collecting work from school fortnightly for some time. They are now back on a daily basis in smaller classes.

Adapting the school business for 2020

These changes created a challenging environment for the business team - but they have been able to keep their many activities going successfully. ‘Sustainably Yours’ offers a wide range of green products to their customers, such as produce and plants grown in the school, seeds, worm tea, free-range eggs and non-toxic handmade pesticide.

While the school was closed, the hens for the free-range eggs part of the school business arrived. Scilla Edmonds, the school’s principal, was there to receive them and ensured they felt at home. Her own business consists in writing children’s books, and she used the new inhabitants of The Birches for inspiration in her latest story, “Sunshine Hen Hotel”. It quickly became a source of income for the school too.

According to Ms. Edmonds, now that the school has re-opened, “the hens and their eggs have been our best product. The children are learning to interact with the hens and to expect their parents to only buy free range eggs. We are getting regular customers in the community ordering and coming out of their way to collect!”

Making the most of social media

The business team has made sure to take advantage of digital channels to market their products and stay in touch. A ‘Business Buddy’ Whatsapp group was created for the team, and all their products are advertised on social media through engaging videos and photos. Scilla explains that the children then take orders from their families and collect the products along with the work packs they pick up fortnightly at school. Then, they just have to distribute the products in their families.

This is exactly what they did with their ‘weed zappers’ (handmade pesticides): “The first batch was made by the teachers and bottled, but the children did the labelling at home. This was sold away from school with orders being taken by the children to friends and family”. Later on, the team had a sale outside of the school entrance to attract more customers.

Staying positive in spite of challenges

To keep students’ spirits up in these challenging times, Ms. Edmonds decided to distribute ‘Student of the Week’ certificates, taking photos of each winner and sharing them in their Whatsapp group to celebrate their achievements.

We know how difficult 2020 has been for many schools: seeing a principal continuing to find ways to ensure that children can continue to gain skills through their business while doing fun activities is truly uplifting! The team at The Birches has managed to really make the most out of a tough situation, and offers great insight into what resilience and adaptability look like.