#AfterSchoolHeroes – Cassandra Carels: School of Hard Knocks

School of Hard Knocks South Africa was established in 2017 and is based on the model used by the international non-profit network operating in the UK, New Zealand and South Africa that was started in 2012.

School of Hard Knocks uses a proven combination of psycho-social counselling from supportive adults and life skills through rugby coaching to challenge, engage, motivate and inspire young participants, with data showing that they leave school with increased wellbeing, a growth mindset, a sense of achievement and raised aspirations for their future.

These powerful life lessons help to reduce symptoms of trauma e.g. anxiety and depression, drug, and alcohol abuse, risky sexual behaviours.

The School of Hard Knocks model is designed as a deep intervention and so includes qualified counsellors who work with learners 1:1.

Treatment or healing for young people suffering high levels of trauma usually takes place in relationships.

Currently School of Hard Knocks delivers sports and life skills programmes to 160 youth from adverse backgrounds at four under resourced government schools in Cape Town.

School of Hard Knocks ultimately helps young people to finish school and become more employable.

Datasets from the schools they have worked in show that they have contributed to a 21% decrease in referrals for poor behaviour and 27% of students have improved their behaviour in just two terms.

This is Cassandra Carels, School of Hard Knocks’ School Manager’s story…

What inspires you the most or motivates you to thrive in your role?

I had a challenging life growing up.

My parents got divorced when I was at a very young age and I subsequently had to live with my grandparents in Hanover Park, a gang infested area.

This naturally came with its own set of challenges.

My mom moved away, and for most of my childhood my father was in prison. In my teens I experimented with alcohol, drugs and so forth. I fell pregnant at the age of 18.

At various points in my life I had good mentors that saw my past and the behaviour I was displaying as a sign that I was destined for something better.

My greatest inspirations are my daughters.

They are My Reasons to Succeed (MRsTS).

When teachers, parents and coaches provide feedback to a participant, where they have seen changes in even the smallest gestures, it is so important.

To me that shows the light of potential within each individual. When teachers are at a loss for words because a participant has surprised them, that motivates me.

Working in the NGO/NPO sector is challenging and often your efforts are dismissed, and remuneration is much less than in other sectors.

However, those stories make everything worthwhile as I too was there once. This then in turn gives me the platform for my daughters to be proud of their mom, despite the challenges we face.

What do you hope to achieve through the work that you do?

I would say ‘World Peace’, but that is such a cliché.

I would also say that the kids have a ‘Better life’, however, we cannot change their environments.

Thus, my hope is to create a ‘Ripple Effect’ or a ‘Snowball Effect’.

As my life was touched, changed, and given a second chance by someone respecting me as an individual, with individual needs, desires, wants and potential, allowing me to make positive decisions even though my environment did not change.

I too want my work to influence and inspire young people to touch others’ lives as their lives have been touched in their own unique way.

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