15 December 2016 – Jason Silcock, who has spearheaded the Saint Andrew’s outdoor education programme at Donkerpoort, will be immigrating to New Zealand shortly. In three years on the Saints’ staff, he made a noteworthy mark on the school.
From Colesberg, Jason’s relationship with Saints began in 1993 when he entered the school in grade two. He stayed on through grade 12, finishing in 2001, having passed through Dunn, Storey and Chandler houses.
Recalling those times recently, he laughed: “I know Kassie [van Kasterop] and Daan de Wet extra well. Hence why I was not a prefect. But those were fun times.”
To this day, he said, his best friends remain those he made while at Saint Andrew’s.
Jason Silcock attended Saint Andrew’s from grade two and matriculated from the school in 2001. He returned as a teacher in 2014.
After school, he studied at the University of the Free State before heading abroad to Scotland where he worked at an outdoor leisure centre for a year. “It was good fun and I learnt a lot,” Jason said.
He returned to South Africa and worked at Pridwin Preparatory School in Melrose, Johannesburg. While there he started a business bringing children to Colesberg for basic outdoor activities.
When his father passed away, Jason and his wife, Stacey Joy decided to move to the Free State, so that they could help with the family farm.
“I took a chance’
“We moved to Bloem and I was fortunate enough to get a post with Saints. They needed someone to kick-start their outdoor camping programme at Donkerpoort. I took a chance, applied and got it.
“I didn’t think twice. I thought starting something like this I would be comfortable. I did apply to other schools in Bloem, but I was hoping and praying to get into Saint Andrew’s, because I knew I would feel a lot more comfortable.”
Returning to Saints took some adjustment, he chuckled: “Coming here, it was a bit strange. I called Pierre Grobler Mister Grobler and he yelled at me and said ‘no, no, no, we’re work colleagues, you call me Pierre’. That was a bit weird. But I settled down so well.
“We’re like a family now. It would be very easy to come back and visit and say howzit to everyone.”
Jason Silcock talks to a group of boys at the Gariep Dam during the grade four camp.
With Jason leading the way, the outdoor education programme has gone from strength to strength. “I hope I have left a bit of a legacy at Donkerpoort,” he said. “Things have kick-started there really nicely. The better facilities have enabled us to do more for the kids and get better results.
“Most old boys of the past 30 years can also relate to the programme. Leadership camps were held on the farm, in the veld. A lot of old boys have been there and slept out in the veld and know what it is like.”
Passing on skills
Jason has worked hard to teach skills to other staff members, so that they may continue the good work already done at Donkerpoort.
“At the camp itself, I got the guys involved with all the activities. That was the most important thing, for the boys to understand what we are doing every year: how to make fires and how to look after themselves when it comes to feeding themselves, because independence was one of the main things we wanted to start. We also wanted to build camaraderie.
“All the staff that went with the camps understand their role. The ladies that go with the junior camps treat the home sickness, which is understandable. Some of the boys have never been away from home for more than a night.
“Everybody has a role to play and I think the staff that have gone with have enjoyed it. Next year, I think they will enjoy it even more, because now we have a beautiful, completely kitted out staff house. It’s very nice, all through sponsorship and the support of the Saints’ community.”
Thanks to work Jason has put in, abseiling and rock climbing will be presented in 2017, with a site having already been scouted. The staff on the camping committee will undergo training at the beginning of the year and then the programme will be introduced to older boys.
“It is quite daunting when you get to the top of the cliff. They are really going to enjoy that. That’s a commercial outdoor activity that has to be a part of it,” Jason said.
Jason Silcock and Headmaster Chris Thomas share a laugh at the 2016 Intermediate Phase Prize-giving.
One of his bigger challenges has been developing the camping programme in such a way that there is growth and new experiences each year, with a focus on sustainable activities.
“We have had to use our initiative and think outside of the box,” Jason reckoned. “With the grade eights, we did things like the Amazing Race and we did community work. Those kinds of things we are going to keep at grade eight level. With the grade sevens, we had them build their own shelters, like a Survivor camp. The grade nines did the solo, 16 hours overnight in the veld. All these little things we have to keep, which gives the boys something to look forward to each year.”
Sometimes, he smiled, the staff have to pay the price for their inventiveness. “In grade four, we did a dessert Masterchef. We tasted some dodgy stuff, like Yogi Sip infused with Rascals in a stokbrood! But we had some nice stuff.”
Making fires and cooking are activities the boys particularly like, he said: “They enjoy it. With some of the groups, we hear them having rap battles, telling jokes to one another, and we can hear them going at one another and laughing. That’s what it’s about, getting them to have fun.”
The boys are also encouraged to get to know everyone in their classes, especially as they will be sharing outdoor education camps throughout their school years.
“I feel that Saints is so lucky to have a site like that. All the staff are getting on board with the idea. There was a fear because last year we had staff sleeping under trees. Father Deon and I slept under a couple of trees and under a zinc parking lot, being kept awake by donkeys braying all night. Right now, we are far ahead,” he said happily.
The Silcock Family
Jason and his family will be moving to Gisborne, just east of Hamilton on New Zealand’s north island. He will be doing temporary work at Gisborne Intermediate School, while his wife will be employed at Gisborne Hospital.
Staying true to his roots, Jason explained: “The vision now is to buy a lifestyle plot and start introducing an outdoor programme. In Gisborne, they don’t have one.
“There is a lot of the Maori heritage there. I have read up about it. A lot of it has been forgotten and I want to try and bring that back through the programme, small things, from traditional fishing to hunting to cooking.” Sea kayaking is another activity he has put onto his to-do list.
“The idea is for my wife and I to get as much experience as we can. New Zealand is big into outdoor activities. Where we are, we have some family, so that is why we went to Gisborne.”
A return to South Africa
The plan, though, is to one day, in the not too distant future, return to South Africa. “We want to come back with experience. We want to do two or three years in New Zealand, perhaps. We will see how it goes. We wouldn’t mind coming back to South Africa and most probably move to the Western Cape. All our family is there. It makes sense to move there.”
Jason has already been looking up Old Andreans in New Zealand and learnt that a classmate had recently also made the move to the Land of the Long White Cloud.
“There is actually a class friend of mine there, Darren Els. He moved to Auckland halfway through the year. It’s not far away,” he said.
Earlier this year, he met up with former Saints’ teacher, Alan Priest, in New Zealand. “That was fun. What a good guy!” Jason said. “I did scouts with him and he was one of the guys who started my passion for the outdoors.”