Published Thursday November 22nd, 2007.
Interview with Peter Gunning Principal of Scoil Na Scairte Leithe, Saleen.
I arrived at the school at lunch time when all the children were outside playing in the yard. It was hard to imagine how so many children could fit inside such a small building. Of course later on a short tour of the school I was shown the new buildings and classrooms that cannot be seen from the road and it all began to make sense.
The school was first established over one hundred years ago in the village of Saleen. It moved to a new building in 1947 and this is where it can be found today. The school building was extended in 1972 and again last year and there are plans to extend the school yet again in the next two years. The original two teacher building has now transformed into an 8 classroom building with 6 additional prefabs.
There are 239 children attending the school 8 of which are in unit for children with autism. The children are mainly from the local area although there are also children from other nationalities. The children come from Ghana, Europe, Australia and America. There are 16 teachers and 10 special needs assistants.
A big emphasis is place on special needs in the school. In the past 7 years the school has catered for the needs of children with special needs. There are children with Downs Syndrome, mild learning disabilities and Dyspraxia. While the special needs assistants and facilities are available Principal Peter Gunning comments
“We only take the children in if their needs can be met by us”.
This is of course very important and shows the dedication of the staff and principal.
The school is the only one in the area that has a separate unit that caters for children with autism. Last year the unit was established and it catered for just two children. There are now three classes catering for 8 children.
“Children with a diagnosis of autism whose education can’t take place in the mainstream classroom come to us, they go to the special classes and then we integrate them during the school day for as much time as possible” comments Principal Peter Gunning.
The school is lucky to have a very active parents association. They along with the Board of Management take responsibility for all extra curricular and after school activities. These activities include speech and drama, singing, music and art. The skills that the children learn through these lessons are showcased each year at a carol service in the local church. The school is primarily a Catholic school and all the children go the mass regularly in the town. Children from other denominations are also catered for.
Sporting activities are organised by the teachers and the school is very involved in the local GAA club. Children are encouraged to be part of the GAA club and the children that are very good at athletics are helped to get involved in athletics clubs around the Midleton area.
At the moment the school has a strict healthy eating campaign which has been running for a few years now. The school is a junk free zone, no fizzies, no sweets, no biscuits and jokes that “its goes for the staff as well”. This has been for past few years. In conjunction with this we have a program where the children run each day. We take them out to the yard and they run around for a couple of minutes every morning. All sport is weather dependant but at least if it’s raining you can still run.
There are many plans for the future as far as Principal Peter Gunning is concerned. The primary focus over the next two years is to build a purpose build unit for children with autism. “At the moment the unit is housed in prefabs and that is not good enough”. The school has applied for funding through the Department of Education. Rather than being reliant on prefabs the Principal and staff want permanent buildings. At the moment there is no school hall so the children cannot take part in activities such as PE. A new building would also have the potential to give the school a room where group activities could take place.
When asked about fundraising Principal Peter Gunning comments that “What school doesn’t need fundraising!” Of course this is a problem with every school in the country. He adds that the capitation grant falls way too short for operation costs for the school. When the huge water and heating bills are paid there is very little money left over for essentials such as books. At the moment the school is focusing on trying to restock the library. Principal Gunning adds that “Fundraising takes an enormous amount of energy which could be used elsewhere”.
When asked about famous past pupils Peter Gunning says that Ciaran O’Connor who played for Cork last year went to the school and a lot of other famous sporting figures also attended the school. He also adds that
“I like to think all our pupils are famous in their own right”.
After the interview with Peter Gunning I was shown around the school. I visited a couple of classrooms and was then brought outside to the unit for children with autism. I was greeted by the three of the children and their special needs assistants. While the school has many facilities this made me realise that this unit is one of a kind. A lot of schools are involved in the GAA and hold carol services at Christmas but not many schools have the facilities to offer such a service to the children. This is the one thing that sets the school apart from many others in the area and I am sure the parents and children are grateful to be offered this facility.