Liam Thomas’ tenure as head boy of Jeppe ends in a few weeks’ time without it, in some ways, ever really getting started. The Covid-19 pandemic with the closure of schools that resulted and the changed school environment when the school re-opened, has made it a very difficult year.
It meant that Liam’s reign as head boy was a very different one and he could be forgiven if he allowed that to affect him negatively, but he chose not to. “It’s been disappointing of course, and we are frustrated that we were not able to implement many of the plans that we formulated when the prefects were first elected, but there have also been positives,” he said. “At first you think about all the things that you are missing out on, but as time went by I began focussing on what was gained as well.”
Back in January, he declared that the aim of the prefects would be to leave the school a better place at the end of the year, and he thinks they have succeeded in that. “I think we have been helped by the fact that we tried hard to set the tone for the year before the lockdown came. I got the prefects, and through them the school, on board with the idea that we wanted Jeppe to be a happy place where everyone was important. When the lockdown came and everyone was isolated that became even more important. We had already set up communications channels and were able to speak to each other, which was important.”
The traditional way in which the head boy and prefects interacted with the school – assemblies, house meetings and at sports events – were suddenly gone, so a new style had to be developed. “We undertook to use our personal contacts and circles to spread the message and keep the school moving in the right direction. Under the circumstances, I think we were quite successful,” he said.
There were the online assemblies during the total lockdown, and the school quickly set up the online learning platforms which allowed work to continue and let the boys communicate with their teachers. Class groups were formed , and all of those things helped, Liam said.
“Those were positive developments. The online learning environment encouraged the boys to use the extra time available, seeing there was no sport, to progress academically.”
Liam believes he learnt a lot through the experience. “I learnt about leading without having daily, close contact. It’s about influencing people without being able to force your authority. I think everyone learnt about priorities. We missed out on sport and social interaction this year, but everyone, from grade 8 to grade 12, learnt other skills that are going to help them in their lives later on.”
We met Liam at his “house” at the Droste House hostel. He has just moved out and the place is being prepared for the next head boy, who will be announced in a few weeks’ time. He explained that the tradition of having the head boy live at Droste with the grade 8s is a very important one. “The role of head boy, and the rest of the Droste prefects, is to mentor the grade 8s and to help them fit in at Jeppe,” he said. “Initiation of any kind in prohibited and there can be no bullying. At the same time, they shouldn’t be babied all the time. Our role is to start the new boys on the journey to becoming true Jeppe boys. It’s about finding the right balance.”
Again, the year in the hostel was badly disrupted, but Liam believes they succeeded to some extent in their aims. “We did have the all-important first part of the process, beginning with the grade 8 camp which took place in December last year, and then we had the first two month of this year to set the tone,” he said. “Hostel boys are the backbone of the school, and the grade 8s are its future, so our role is a vital one. When the lockdown ended and the Droste boys had the option of returning to the hostel, almost every one of them did. That shows we did something right,” Liam concluded.