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.