Having only been at St John’s D.S.G. for two years before contracting polio, sadly only 5 months before the vaccine became available, St John’s D.S.G. Old Girl, Susan Smyth (Class of 1961) spent her Grade 6 year in an Orthopedic Hospital and only returned back to school in Grade 7. For Sue, this was a pivotal point in her life, as it helped her adapt to normal society, despite her significant physical handicaps. St John’s D.S.G. went to great lengths to enable Sue to be as ordinary a schoolgirl as possible. The teachers made sure all her classrooms were on the ground floor and even though she was granted additional writing time and other concessions, St John’s D.S.G. integrated her into the busyness of school life.
The impact that the staff made on Sue’s life and the coping mechanisms taught, helped her to complete her tertiary education, obtaining her degree at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg which she followed by a post graduate year at the University of Cape Town. Her interest in learners with special educational needs led her to further post graduate studies, specialising in Remedial Therapy. The 26 years that Sue spent dedicating her time to learners was innovative and rewarding – she loved assessing and teaching young people who had been able to make their way into a wide variety of careers, despite their academic vulnerabilities.
Currently living at Woodgrove Retirement Village in Pietermaritzburg, Sue enjoys catching up with the other St John’s D.S.G. Old Girls in the area. They recently enjoyed each other’s company, laughing and reminiscing over coffee and delicious brownies, lovingly sent from the St John’s D.S.G. Old Girls’ Association.
It was such a pleasure to catch up with Sue for this month’s Heart-to-Heart.
What did you love most about St John’s D.S.G?
I can testify to the reality that St John’s D.S.G. truly is a ‘small school with big heart.’ Despite my obvious physical handicaps, the wider St John’s D.S.G. community of teachers, girls and parents never made me feel different in any way. I was included in all activities where I had the opportunity to learn and grow in a safe and caring environment. This, in turn, enabled me to have the satisfaction of giving back varied and exciting openings to the young people with whom I have worked.