Review of School Year 2019/2020

The school year 2019/20 was a year like no other.

From a staffing point of view, we said goodbye to a number of staff during the year. Mr. Billy Hughes retired as school caretaker after many years’ service to the school. No job was ever too big or small for Billy and he was always a friendly ear for staff. His skills in many different areas were greatly appreciated and his knowledge of the school building was unrivalled.

We also said goodbye to Ms. Louise Nolan who had worked in our school for 10 years as a job share partner for Ms Anne Tully. Anne also retired in October 2020 and the school will miss their expertise especially with regard to special educational needs. Both teachers excelled helping students who may have found some particular aspect of schooling difficult and were always willing to share their knowledge with other staff members. We will miss them all around the school and wish them well in their retirement.

In September we welcomed 42 new Junior Infants into our school. We also welcomed a number of other students into other classes. Pupils enjoyed harvesting some of the vegetables grown in our outdoor garden area and made rhubarb ginger and clove jam using our own rhubarb. We also had grown Lumper potatoes which were the exact same type of potatoes grown during the Irish famine.

September is also the month when school sports kicks off and we were delighted to take part in the Allianz Cumann na mBunscol football competition. Having learned lots from those games the girls were really looking forward to camogie, soccer and basketball competitions due to be held later in the year but these were unfortunately all cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Carlow GAA coach, Benny did train some of the classes in the early part of the school year and Denise Brophy also trained some of our younger classes as part of the club school link with Bagenalstown Gaels. We thank them both for their help during the year.

Thanks to lots of hard work from many school members and the local community, our school was awarded a special regional school award in the Tidy Towns competition. This was testament to the amazing work being undertaken to provide gardening and growing opportunities for our children and education them on the biodiversity of the local area. We have many experts now in the school on bees and pollination and a visit from KCLR was facilitated to give the children a chance to share this knowledge with others. We also created a video with the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin showcasing the school gardens for a conference they were running. We also won prizes in Carlow Pride of Place and Barrow awards. Prize money was spent on bulbs so we can have even more colour around the school in coming years. We have more plans in the pipeline for a play space for the children using grant funding from the Creative Schools process so watch this space!

Sean Hayden & Bradley Hynes reached the finals of this year’s Eco-Unesco Young Environmentalist Awards.  The finalists from Queen of the Universe NS, highlighted the positive impact of building an outdoor classroom that is wildlife-friendly with pollinating flower beds in our school.

Even getting to the final is a great achievement for the youngsters, given that almost 500 applications were received ‒ a record-breaking number despite the Covid interruptions. The Young Environmentalist Awards (YEA) recognise and reward young people aged ten to 18 who have taken environmental action and created projects that will help solve environmental issues. The event sees more than 4,000 participants each year. 

Maths week was a busy week with table quizzes and other fun activities in class and senior classes also took part in the Concern debating competition. These debates are a great opportunity for children to learn the skill of research, pacing, confident public speaking and rebutting an argument. Congratulations to all involved in the debates but their classmates also help them in getting prepared for the competition, a real team effort.

At Halloween we again planned to hold our Witch walk around the town. This has now become one of the highlights of the school year for the children but unfortunately the weather was too bad to go for the walk. A disco was held instead in the school hall for the classes and we completed the walk closer to Christmas in Christmas jumpers!

185 Shoeboxes were collected as normal for the Heart to Hand charity who brought them to children in other countries who are not as lucky as us.

Paralympian Nicole Turner visited our school to talk to senior classes about her swimming experiences and how she was encouraging others to Dare to Believe. Nicole was a very inspirational speaker and we look forward to following her progress in the years to come.

Gerry Creighton from Dublin Zoo paid a surprise visit to our school in December to visit his friend Bradley who he has met on a number of occasions. HE was delighted to answer questions from 5th class about the zoo and their favourite animals.              

Our Christmas concert was held in our school hall with each class performing some songs, poems and performances for their families.

Our 6th class pupils were one of the lucky classes who got to celebrate their Confirmation before the lockdown happened and we were delighted that Bishop Denis Nulty was present on the day to lead the ceremony.

4th class participated in the ESB Science Blast competition in the RDS. Their project was based on the question “Are you getting enough sleep?” and with support from Laya Super Troopers the class investigated the need for sleep and the effects of smart devices on children’s sleep. A great day was had and the judges were very impressed with the project and findings.

For Engineers week our senior classes visited IT Carlow and Coláiste Aindriú to take part in workshops with our 6th class students winning the bridge building competition in the IT.

All of this activity brought us to that fateful morning of March 12th.

The announcement from An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that schools were to close at the end of the day was a shock to everyone in the school. Photocopiers were working overtime as teachers strived to give the children enough work to keep them going for what we thought initially would be two weeks. As children left at the end of the day there was a nervous excitement at the mini holiday ahead of them.

As we know however, the weeks turned into months and our school staff had to discover different ways of interacting with their pupils with online platforms SeeSaw and Google Classroom chosen to provide work. Parents were encouraged to email teachers for support and advice in what was a very strange time for everyone. Many different websites were used to provide worksheets etc. during the closures with many companies providing their products free for schools which was very appreciated. Online video calls were used in some of our senior classes to allow students to see their friends and videos were created for students moving at the end of the year as a special reminder of their time in the school. Competitions were held where students submitted work to the school on a particular theme and a winner was chosen at random for a book voucher. IT equipment was offered to those without devices at home and some families were able to avail of this. Thankfully the weather during the height of the pandemic was very good and lots of active outdoor learning was possible.

Sadly, Communion, Fun Bun day, school tours and swimming all had to be cancelled but thankfully Communion was held in August in a lovely family centered ceremony. 

Preparing for the reopening of the school buildings in September was a huge task. To create space, we knocked two classrooms into one in two locations and started work on converting the front of the old Teagasc offices into a classroom. This was on top of ordering new single desks, hand sanitisiing units, PPE, sinks, signage and teaching resources. Richard Hughes, our caretaker, was incredible in his dedication to getting the school ready with many hours worked in preparation.

A video was created to show the children the changes to the school and by all reports, many found this useful in the last days of August.

When the 1st September arrived, the children arrived back with great excitement to see their friends and teachers again. Laughter and learning was again heard throughout the school and the new routines of handwashing, sanitising and classes not mixing with other classes were quickly part of the school day. Staggered opening and closing times has eased the traffic pressure on the roads outside the school and staggered break times has provided the classes with more space to play in.

Our hope now is that the virus will stay out of our community and that we remain open to provide the best education possible for the children. Hopefully the school year 2020/21 will be a little more normal for everybody involved and we will be able to have school tours, swimming and all the other fun events the children love again.

Return to school video

Dear Parents/Guardians,

Here is a video to show your children how the school will look for their return on Tuesday. The video shows the different routes classes will take on coming to school and the doors they will enter. It also goes through the school to show the classrooms and some of the changes made to the building.

A text message will be sent on Monday to remind you of your drop off locations. Your child will exit through the same door and gate at home time.

We look forward to seeing lots of happy faces on Tuesday for our return to school.

Kind Regards,

Cathal Cole

School Reopening plan

Dear Parents/Guardians,

As we get nearer to the reopening of our school following almost 6 months of closure, we wish to thank you for your support during the closures and your commitment to the education of your child at home. Our staff have been busy preparing our school with changes being made to the physical building, classroom layouts, toilet facilities and break time routines.

You will have already received the staggered start and finish times designed to prevent crowding as much as possible.  We urge you to stick to your allotted time to ensure the safety of all our school community.

Attached to this email is further details on other aspects of the new school year. The safe reopening of our school can only happen if everyone plays their part. We will be following the Covid 19 Response plan, which is available on our website, in line with Government guidelines to provide schooling in as safe as possible a manner.

The response plan details the preventative measures we have put in place in school before the return of pupils. Some of these are

  • Induction training for all staff on the prevention of the spread of Covid 19
  • Pre return to work forms from all staff
  • Lead Worker representatives who will ensure that Covid 19 prevention strategies are being implemented and followed by all
  • Signage throughout the school reminding all of good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
  • Changes to the school layout to create teaching spaces that are as large as possible.
  • Updated Health and Safety risk assessment
  • Restricted access to the school and contact tracing logs

We will also have control measures in place to help prevent the introduction and spread of the infection:

  • All the school community will be informed of the signs and symptoms of Covid 19 and are NOT to attend school if they display any of these symptoms.
  • Good respiratory hygiene will be taught to all pupils and used tissues disposed of carefully.
  • Hand hygiene is very important for preventing the spread of Covid 19 and other germs. Warm water is available in all toilets with soap and paper towels. Pupils will wash their hands regularly throughout the day.
  • Hand sanitisers are also available at each entrance to the school and in every classroom.
  • Physical distancing

As per the Government guidelines, physical distancing can be usefully applied in primary and special school settings allowing for some flexibility when needed but It must be applied in a practical way. Physical distancing will look different across the various ages and stages of learning.

Physical distancing falls into two categories:

  • Increasing separation
  • Decreasing interaction

Increasing separation

Classrooms have been reconfigured in the school to create as large a space as possible. The wall between rooms 1 and 2 has been knocked to create one large room and the same has also been done with the wall between rooms 7 and 8. Our hall will also be used as a classroom for the coming year. Work is underway also on the Barrett St. side of the former Teagasc building to create another large room.

Any extra furniture has been removed and all available spaces will be used to teach the pupils. Resources for teachers will be stored outside the room as much as possible to create additional space in classrooms.

Decreasing interaction

The aim of the system proposed within the school is that class groupings mix only with their own class from arrival at school in the morning until departure at the end of the school day. This is achieved through staggered opening/closing and break times and avoiding as much as possible shared toilet facilities. In primary school a distance of 1m should be maintained between desks or between individual pupils. It is recognised that younger children are unlikely to maintain physical distancing indoors. Therefore, achieving this recommendation in the first four years of primary or special schools, is not a pre-requisite to reopening a primary or special school for all pupils.

Class groupings have been given the term ‘Bubble’ and in Junior infants to 2nd class, classes will be subdivided into smaller groups called ‘Pods’.  Generally speaking, the objective is to limit contact and sharing of common facilities between Pods within those Class Bubbles as much as possible, rather than to avoid all contact between Pods, as the latter will not always be possible.

From 3rd – 6th classes will have 1m separation as much as possible.

Resources will be cleaned thoroughly before being used by a different class bubble.

Special Education teachers will clean desks/chairs and resources between any children they teach.

P.P.E. (masks and visors) will be provided to all staff for use where a 2m distance cannot be maintained. It will also be used when dealing with intimate care needs or dealing with a suspected case of Covid 19 in the school.

Cleaning of the school will take place daily with toilet areas also cleaned during the school day. Disinfectant wipes and sprays will be provided in every classroom so items can be wiped clean when necessary. A particular focus will be on commonly touched surfaces such as door knobs, chairs, tables etc.

An isolation room has been created to help deal with any suspected cases of Covid 19. If a child becomes unwell during the school day, parents will be called immediately and asked to bring them home and to contact their GP for advice. Please ensure your contact details are correct with the office. This room will be cleaned after each suspected case.

While all this seems like a lot of rules and regulations, they are all in place to keep our children and staff safe. We all must cooperate to ensure the safe and sustainable reopening of schools and many of these regulations are in place in every school in the country.

We can’t wait for the return of our pupils and look forward to the buzz of the children around the school again. While there will be differences, the familiar sounds of fun, laughter and learning will be a welcome return to some normality for everyone. For the first few weeks in school our focus will be on the wellbeing of our pupils and establishing hygiene routines. There will be no homework for at least the month of September to give children and parents a break and allow you as a family to discuss the new school routines.

In summary for parents:

  • Check your child’s temperature before coming to school
  • DO NOT send your child to school if they have any symptoms of Covid 19

Fever

Cough

Shortness of breath

Loss of taste or smell

or

been a close contact of a confirmed or suspected case

Please see https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/a04fc-advice-for-students-and-their-families/

  • Entry to the school is by appointment only. Please phone the office on 059 9721075.
  • Staff and pupils only on school grounds. Please do not congregate at the school exits.
  • Stick to your allotted drop off/collection time.
  • Ensure your contact details are correct with the office
  • Children must be able to open their lunch items and bottles
  • The only things that will travel between home and school will be school bags, lunch boxes and water bottles. If possible, hard plastic, wipeable lunchboxes are preferable for hygiene purposes. Please clean every evening. All rubbish will be brought home. Pencil case should remain in school.
  • Uniforms should be worn only to school and taken off immediately once pupils come home.
  • If you have travelled from a non-green list country, please self-isolate on your return for 14 days as per government guidelines.
  • The Department of Education do not recommend the use of individual hand sanitisers as they are a poison risk due to the alcohol content. The school will provide 37 different locations where sanitiser is available including every classroom.
  • Please wear warm clothing as windows and doors will be left open to increase ventilation.

Thank you for your cooperation with this plan and we look forward to working together for the safe reopening of the school.

We look forward to seeing everybody on the 1st September,

Kind regards,

Mary Murphy, Chairperson BOM

Cathal Cole, Principal

Walking to school safely

Dear Parents/Guardians.

While we would encourage as many children as possible to walk, it is important we all remain safe on the way to and from school.

We are lucky as a school to have Pauline who does great work minding the children as they cross the busy main road. 

Pauline has received the following guidance and advice for children and their parents and has asked me to pass it on.

  • Children must remain with their parents going to/from school when crossing the road – no running up to the crossing or waiting for other children.
  • Older children must cross immediately no remaining or waiting for any time at the crossing 
  • Social distancing of 2m must be adhered to at all times for both adults and children

We appreciate your cooperation with this advice as we strive to keep all as safe as possible.

Kind regards,

Cathal

Information for parents of Junior Infants for the first two weeks

Dear Parents/Guardians of Junior Infants,

We know that the first day at school is a special one and an exciting one for everyone involved. We hope that the children will be looking forward to coming to big school and seeing their friends again.

For the first two weeks of school our junior infants will have a shorter day to help them to settle in and learn the new routines of big school. This year will be strange for all of us but unfortunately our normal first day at school cannot happen in the traditional way. Sadly, due to Covid 19 restrictions, parents will not be allowed into the school building. To ease the transition, we are organizing groups of maximum 6 pupils. Parents only are invited into the yard with their child to line up before meeting the teacher. The class teacher will then bring the children into the classroom where they will meet the other pupils. We hope the smaller group will make it easier on the children as they will not be overawed by a large group.

With the smaller groups and to avoid a crowd in the yard we are staggering the start times so that only 6 infants will arrive together at the same time. You are asked to line up on one of the markers in the yard to maintain social distance and the teacher will come out to meet you and bring the children into the school.

We ask that each child would draw a picture of themselves and their families as a discussion point and they can bring this into the classroom to be put on the wall. The focus will be on the picture being brought into the room rather than the child which may help put some children at ease.

All photographs should be taken early in the morning before school or outside the school. We will also take some pictures of the children in the room and can email them to you so you have that picture if you wish. If you do not want a picture taken of your child, please email the school.

We ask that you stick to your appointed times to avoid a crowd in the yard and to leave once your child has gone into the school.

There will be one lunch break during these first two weeks so please provide a small snack and a drink. Children are asked to bring lunch items they can open themselves. (e.g. no Frubes) and please make sure they can open their lunch box and drink independently. Velcro fastenings on shoes are preferable to aid the child’s independence. Please label all personal items including books and clothing. 

We look forward to seeing you all on the 1st September and lots of smiling happy faces.

Each family has been emailed their allocated time.

Drop off and collection details

Dear Parent / Guardian,

RE: Drop-off and Collection Routines

The Board of Management and the School staff have been working to ensure a safe return to school for all pupils and staff on the 1st September.   We have now finalised our plans for drop-off and collection of the children every day. 

Queen of the Universe N.S. appreciates your support as we try to safely reopen the school building. If at all possible we request you not to come onto the school grounds or into the school building unless it is essential. We appreciate that dropping off the Junior & Senior Infant pupils to their line in the yard is essential, but older pupils should be dropped off at the school gate. Working together we hope to be able to progress the reopening in as safe a manner as possible for all.

We would ask all parents to familiarise themselves with the following drop-off and collection routines for the safe arrival and dispersal of pupils from school.  Please be patient as we endeavour to embed these necessary precautionary and protective practices at the beginning of the school year.

It is imperative that

  • adults do not come within 2m of each other
  • parents do not try to have meetings with members of staff in the playground at drop-off and collection times – meetings between parents and teachers can only take place by prior arrangement by calling or emailing the school office. (This may have to be more restrictive depending on guidance – it is quite possible that the recommendation will be for remote meetings/telephonic communications.)
  • all parents adhere to the drop-off and collection plans as outlined below

Staggered Drop Off and Collection Times

To help with reducing the amount of traffic around the school gates, children are asked to walk/cycle/scoot to school if it is at all possible.

All the children will enter and leave the building through their designated door.

Unfortunately, it will not be possible for parents/guardians to come onto the school grounds before/after school. To minimise the risks, and to help us to maintain social distancing, the children must stick to their allotted times (Separate, special arrangements will be put in place for our Junior Infants and Senior Infants.)

Morning:

All class teachers will be in their classrooms by 9.10a.m. Classes will have staggered arrival times (Please see attached document)

Parents are asked to ‘drop and go’ at their allotted time. Pupils will walk straight into their classroom to avoid mixing with other classes

Parents are requested not to come before their allotted time to ease congestion on the road outside the school and to avoid crowds congregating at the school gates.

Children will go directly to their classrooms on arrival. Other staff members (including Special Education Teachers, SNAs and the Principal) will be available outside and inside the building to receive the children and to help them to their classrooms.

Afternoon:

Classes will be staggered on leaving the building. Each class will have their own designated exit door and will proceed with their teacher to their designated exit gate where they can meet parents. Parents/Guardians who collect children are asked to maintain appropriate social distancing outside the school gate and wear a mask.

This system will apply rain, hail or shine so please make sure that your child comes to school prepared for the weather!

We will send you further details on other aspects of the reopening soon.

Please see the attached document for your child’s class times.

le meas,

           Mary Murphy                                                  Cathal Cole         

  Cathaoirleach, An Bórd Bainistíochta                      Príomhoide

Infant parent update

Dear Parents/Guardians,

As we get closer to the start of the school year, we are working very hard to make our school as safe as possible. To give our infant classes more space, we have changed their classroom from rooms 7 and 9 to rooms 5 and 6. These rooms have toilets en suite which will make things a little easier for the infants. As part of the guidelines for schools, classes must be kept apart from one another and therefore both infant classes will be kept apart and will enter the school via the two doors on the infant yard without mixing. Ms. Connolly’s class will enter via Barratt St. and the lower infant yard door and Ms. Kirwan’s class will enter via Long Range and the middle door on the infant yard. We will have a meeting online for parents to discuss these arrangements and the initial return to school shortly.

We are keenly aware that the transition for our Junior Infants will be very different this year due to Covid 19.

With this in mind, we have made a short video so you can show your son/daughter their teacher and discuss the return to school with them.

The video can be found at the following link. 

We would also ask that you read the following documents which give some very helpful guidance in preparing your child for school. 

Transitioning  to Primary School – Tips and Strategies.

Guidance from the Department of Education on the transition to Primary school.

https://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Services/National-Educational-Psychological-Service-NEPS-/guidance-transitioning-pre-school-to-primary-school.pdf

We are really looking forward to welcoming our new infants into the school and we know they will be delighted to be back with their friends. 

We will be in touch again soon with further details of our return to school plan and the online meeting. 

Kind regards,

Cathal Cole

Principal

Back to school planning

Dear Parents/Guardians,

I hope you and your families are keeping well.

As you are aware, our school has now been closed since 12th March due to the COVID-19 situation.  We are now hoping to re-open our school safely, in line with current guidance and recommendations.

Re-opening the school safely will require the co-operation of all members of our School Community – BoM, School Leadership, Staff, Parents and Pupils. We will all be called on to play our part in ensuring that re-opening of the school is done in a safe manner which prevents the spread of the virus and allows the vital work of Teaching and Learning to proceed with as little disruption as possible.

We have been working on our plan for the safe reopening of the school for some weeks now and have been following the DES COVID-19 Response Plan for the safe and sustainable reopening of Primary and Special Schools.  The Response Plan gives details of

  • Physical preparation, signage, hand sanitiser stations,
  • Advice, procedures and training for the safe return to working in the school for all school staff and pupils
  • General and specific advice on how all pupils, staff, parents and visitors will prevent the spread of the virus

The Response Plan can be found at the following link

http://www.gov.ie/backtoschool/

We will also publish our COVID-19 Policy Statement on the school website. Our BoM will keep you informed as to the progress of our re-opening plans and provide you with the information required by you to play your part in safely re-opening the school.

We are really looking forward to welcoming our children back to school and will be doing all that we can to ensure that the return to school is a safe and enjoyable experience for the children. We will be in touch with you again before school re-opens.

Le meas

__________Mary Murphy__________                                                ________Cathal Cole_____

  Cathaoirleach, An Bhóird Bainistíochta                                                Príomhoide

The following websites provide further information on COVID-19 and on government advice and recommendations regarding the re-opening of schools: –