Head of the Class – Gael Scoil.

Published – East Cork Journal, Thursday March 13th, 2008.

Interview with  Príomhoide Mairéad Uí Fhloinn.

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Gaelscolaíocht d’ardchaighdeán a chur ar fáil do gach pháiste i dteannta le hachmhainn iomlán an pháiste agus an cultúr Gaelach a chothú  ’s a neartú iontu agus iad i gcaidreamh beo le Dia agus le daoine eile.

To provide each child with a high standard of education through Irish while cultivating and strengthening a love of Irish culture as we develop the whole child in a living relationship with God and with others.

Nuair a thugann daoine nach cainteorí Gaeilge iad  cuairt ar an scoil bíonn ionadh agus alltacht orthu toisc go labhraíonn gach éinne Gaeilge fuí taobh amuigh de shaol an ranga. Is mór an t’éacht é sin. Tá caighdeán níos airde i labhairt na Gaeilge ag na leanaí seo ná mar a bhíonn ag furmhór againn tar éis dúinn an scoil a fhágáil.

Gael Scoil Mhainistir na Corann was founded in 1999. A few years previous to this a group of people came together to set up the school. The biggest challenge they had was to find a suitable premises.

Eventually the committee was offered the use of the community centre. The first year that the school opened there were just 17 pupils and there was limited recognition of the school.

There are now 268 children which is a great achievement since the school isn’t even 9 years old yet. This reflects the growing need for Gael Scoileanna in the East Cork area and shows that there is a demand in area to have children educated through Irish. The school has gone from a one teacher school to a 13 teacher school. There are 2 part time special needs assistants and also a classroom assistant who helps out with everyday classroom duties.

The children come from the Midleton and out-lying area. In most cases the parents have shown an interest in having their children taught though the medium of Irish. “We have children coming from Midleton, Carrigtwohill, Killeagh, Ladysbridge and Castlymartyr” says Príomhoide Mairéad Uí Fhloinn.

The ethos of the school is to promote the Irish language. All subjects are taught through the Irish language with the exception of English. The policy of the school is total immersion in the Irish language and no English is taught until the third term. Príomhoide Mairéad Uí Fhloinn explains that the reason for this is that

“research shows that children learn quicker if they are immersed in the new language before going onto the second language”.

This aside she does also stress that “the standard of English is equal to if not better than that of children who are taught through the medium of English”. Through teaching like this the teachers have found that none of the children have any difficulties when it comes to learning English and they pick it up fast as the basic skills have already been taught through Irish.

For the first time French is being taught in the school this year. It has been introduced to children in 5th and 6th class and has so far been very successful. French is thought in accordance with the modern languages scheme initiative for primary schools. Mairéad Uí Fhloinn acknowledges its success and says “It is going very well and we hope to have a few songs in our Christmas show this year”.

Being a Gael Scoil the focus is Irish and all things Irish. The school has a múinteoir ceoil who teaches the children every Monday and prepares them for the Scór na bPáistí competition. This year the children are taking part in five sections of this competition. They are also preparing for a drama which will be in the church at Christmas. The school also has a drama teacher. She is a great asset to the school as she helps with the promotion of oral English.

The main focus is now on singing, music and the Scór na bPáistí competition. However, after Christmas the children will be involved in dance lessons. This will run up until Seachtain na Gaeilge, which as many will recognise is a very important week in the school and the Irish community.

A number of events are organised .The major event is a Céilí within the school which the children prepare for beforehand. Cairde, the Parents Association are very helpful when it comes to this as they sponsor the Céilí band for the occasion. An Oíche Bingo as Gaeilge is also organised during this week. While this is an optional event many children have taken part in the past. The children will also take part in the St Patricks Day Parade which is held in the town.

Having been a great success last year the students are again taking part in The Health Service Executive program of promoting healthy eating . The school has drawn up a healthy eating policy. A few weeks ago the students took part in a healthy eating week. This year there was a smoothie demonstration where a committee made up of parents, teachers and children went to every class room showing how smoothie are made and gave each child a sample of a smoothie. There was a competition of filling a lunch box with healthy food for the younger classes. Rang 2 had to draw up a food pyramid and the older classes had to draw up healthy menus for a restaurant. Prizes were sponsored by Cairde and presented at the end of the week. A skipping work shop also took place during this week and all children were given the chance to take part. After Christmas the school will be taking part in the Food Dudes program.

Throughout my interview with Mairéad Uí Fhloinn I was made aware of how important the parents association are to the school. Many schools have parents associations but this school clearly exists because of them. Any fundraising or school activities that need organised Cairde are there to help. A fundraising race night was recently held in Wallis’ Bar in Midleton. This was also organised by Cairde and Principal Mairéad Uí Fhloinn would like to express thanks to “Wayne Fitzpatrick and the committee for all the work that they put into this event”.

The other major fundraiser which has taken place every year for that last number of years is the golf classic which is held on Holy Thursday and again Cairde are a big help in organising this. Willie O’Connell organises this and the school would also like to thank him.

While a lot has been done to set up the school and organise a building, funding, teachers etc. there is one thing that the school still needs. Anyone who has seen the school will know that the community centre is not an ideal building for a school, in fact it is far from it. Having been involved in activities there as a child I know how small the school is and it’s hard to imagine that 268 kids can fit in that one building. Nothing about the premises is perfect and although it was the place where the school set up, it is far from appropriate now.

What is badly needed is a permanent building so that the children can be educated in a school that they deserve. There is a huge co-operation within the staff. As Principal   Mairéad Uí Fhloinn  says

“We need a school and we need it quickly” 

Castlelands Construction has offered to build a school but this has been delayed. The school is pursuing this and want the new building as fast as possible.

The numbers of children in the school are growing fast and every school in the town will have increased numbers next year. There is only so much longer that the school can last in this building. The children have chosen to study through Irish and they should be rewarded for all their work instead of being forced to spend each day in a small inappropriate building. Unlike many of their friends in English speaking schools they do not have the same recreational facilities. Their choice to learn through Irish should not affect the services and facilities that are available to them.

Leaving the room I realised that I had learnt so much. Many schools that I have visited were fighting for prefabs, new computers, new books but this school is definitely the most in need of help. A school building is essential and everything else can easily fit in around this. Despite the constant struggle for a new school Principal Mairéad Uí Fhloinn does not let it stop the children from getting the education they want and it is clear that she has a lot of help. As she says

“We are blessed that there are always people to lend a hand no matter what the cause is”.

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