It was a heart-wrenching day at Riebeek College Girl’s High School in Uitenhage on Wednesday following news that the body of much loved teacher, Jayde Panayiotou, had been found.
Teachers and students alike had been praying for her safe return since hearing about her disappearance outside her home at Stellen Glen residential complex in Deacon Road, Kabega Park on Tuesday morning.
Panayiotou, 28, had been waiting outside her complex to get a lift with a fellow teacher and friend, but when the friend arrived, Panayiotou was missing. It triggered a massive manhunt for her that ended in tragedy on Wednesday when her body was found.
Teaching ‘was her passion’ school principal, Marilyn Woods, described Panayiotou as a loving soul who had a passion for teaching.
“Jayde was something special. I taught her when she was a little girl at Riebeek and she’s been teaching here since 2008. Jayde was a special person. For her teaching was not a job, teaching was a calling and her passion,” she said.
Panayiotou was a Grade 7 class teacher, and also taught life orientation from Grades 4 to 7.
Woods said pupils and teachers alike had been hard hit by the news of Panayiotou’s disappearance and the news of her death.
“When we heard about her abduction yesterday [Tuesday], I called the teachers in, as well as the senior girls, and told them what had happened and that we needed to keep faith and have hope that Jayde would be brought back safely,” she said.
Woods said she had also asked the teachers to dedicate the last 20 minutes of the day to praying for Panayiotou’s safe return.
“I told them they’re going to put their heads on their desks, think positive thoughts and imagine her coming back to us and hopefully those positive thoughts would give her strength. We were all sad but we were calm,” she said.
Close friends sent home
Woods said after she had been informed that police had found Panayiotou’s body behind the KwaNobuhle township on the outskirts of Uitenhage, she had told the staff, before revealing the sad news to the rest of the school.
Woods said some staff, who were close personal friends with Panayiotou, had been sent home.
“We called an assembly, which was attended by two representatives from the Uitenhage School Districts, both of whom are psychiatrists, as well as two ministers,” she said.
Woods said the pupils had been heartbroken at the news. She said staff and some of the senior girls had walked around during break to console them.
“We decided to keep the school running as per normal, so that we could provide the necessary support for the children, she said.