THE HISTORY OF THE CAMPUS
The history of the campus at 42 Soetvlei Avenue in Constantia goes back decades when the Sisters of Notre Dame from France were granted permission in November 1948 by the Vatican to start a training school in the area. In 1949, they chose the current property on which to build a convent. This land was originally part of the Sweet Valley Farm.
The French nuns started classes in the nearby suburb of Bergvliet, commencing with 30 students on April 26, 1949. In the meantime, construction of the convent and junior school had started on the property at 42 Soetvlei Avenue. On February 2, 1952, the convent and school were blessed by the Archbishop. The nuns ran their primary school for 25 years until they ran out of funding from the Vatican. At that point, they handed over the keys of the property to the South African government. Shortly thereafter, the government turned the campus into a reformatory school for girls. The boys reformatory school was further down Firgrove Avenue towards the mountain. In time, the reformatory schools were closed and the grounds left to decay.
In the meantime, the American International School of Cape Town (AISCT) was established in January 1997. The first academic school year began on September 1, 1997 in a two-storey home on Campground Road in Rondebosch. The grades offered to the 18 students at the time were Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8. The school was originally accredited by the European Council of International Schools in the UK. As the enrollment grew, the need for a larger space became evident, and the owners investigated the property at 42 Soetvlei Avenue in Constantia. They obtained a lease from the South African government in 2001, totally renovated the former convent and school campus, and opened their doors to students in January 2002.
Since then, AISCT’s enrollment has steadily increased to over 500, and the school has obtained accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) based in California. In September 2010, the former reformatory school cell block building in the back of the campus was completed and dedicated, named after one of AISCT’s founders Dr. Pat Gorvalla, a South African educator and businesswoman. The current Little Theatre, once a chapel, is a historical landmark and still has its original stained glass windows. AISCT continues to grow and develop on the current campus, adding to the rich educational history at 42 Soetvlei Avenue, Constantia.
‘I drove through the elegant wrought-iron gates, round the lily pond and stopped. The white Cape Dutch gables stood in bold relief against the deep blue of the cloudless sky, a blue that perfectly matched the background to the figure of the Madonna which stood in a recess beneath the front gable. The fir trees and flowering gums were still, the birds and insects quiet. As I waited, it seemed that the silence of this lovely spot had been planned by God to bring peace to the children who study in these buildings … Then the peace was shattered by the clang of a bell: the work of the day was finished … I know that wherever I go in this world, I will carry the memory of this silence, this beauty, this peace: the Notre Dame Convent in Sweet Valley, Constantia.’
This description by Evelyn Lewis, entitled “Beautiful Memory”, was published in Fair Lady in September 1967.