JOHANNESBURG—Faced with a $75,000 deficit in its operational budget, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls announced this week that it would be forced to cut a number of core Oprah courses from its enriched Oprah curriculum.
According to school officials, a total of eight classes will be dropped or scaled back starting this fall, including Introduction to Oprahmatics, 20th-Century Oprah History, and the language arts elective American Winfrey Literature.
"We had to make some tough choices, and in the end, courses like Oprahnomics and World Winfrography were simply too expensive to keep around," announced principal Desiree Verdan, speaking before reporters in the school's Harpo Arts Auditorium. "Sadly, with the high cost of Oprah-based education these days, eliminating these programs is our only recourse."
Added Verdan, "This is definitely not one of our Favorite Things."
Established in 2007 to provide poor and disadvantaged South African children with the best Oprah-related schooling available, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy has been instrumental in teaching young girls everything from how to read about Oprah, to how to write about Oprah, to the very basics of Theoretical Oprahology.
Unfortunately, decreased funding for arts programs and ballooning expenses in recent months have all but crippled the South African school.
"It's devastating," vice principal Lerato Morris said. "Our music department no longer has enough instruments for students to play the show's theme song, we've been forced to make do with the same old copies of O Magazine for months, and just yesterday one of our third-graders asked me who Gayle was."
"It breaks your heart," he added. "To have to look a little girl in the eye and tell her, 'No, we won't be learning about how to give away hundreds of free cars today.' It just breaks your heart."
So far, the school's math and science departments have been the hardest hit. Once compulsory courses, Winfranometry and Winfranometry II have had their funding slashed dramatically, while Chemistry—a class that examines the vast inner workings of Oprah and longtime boyfriend Stedman Graham's relationship through a series of controlled lab experiments—is down to its last three Bunsen burners.
Extracurricular courses such as Advanced Oprah Studies, Oprah Latin, and the independent study program Laughing at Everything John Travolta Has to Say have also had their class sizes reduced by half.
While faculty members have tried to take the cutbacks in stride, the loss of 20th-Century Oprah History this week has left many teachers more frustrated and discouraged than ever before.
"With history gone, how are students going to learn about the great Oprah-defining moments of our time," eighth-grade teacher Jakomina Smith said. "The Phil Donahue Battle of 1985, the Great Tom Cruise Interview Disaster, the three dozen times Oprah has cried about her childhood on the show—we're talking about the fundamentals here."
According to Smith, if the school's curriculum continues to shrink at this rate, students may soon find themselves without the skills necessary to compete in today's Oprah world.
"How do we expect our kids to succeed, if they don't know the first thing about sitting down with Maya Angelou to discuss important life lessons?" Smith said. "This is South Africa, after all. We need to give these children a fighting chance."
Teachers aren't the only ones at the private school feeling distressed. A number of students, many of whom walk miles every day just to learn how much weight the talk show host lost on her new diet, also expressed concern over the changes.
"Oprah," eighth-grader Kimba Davidson said. "Oprah, Oprah."
Added Davidson, "Oprah?"