Super seven: meet the Leaving Cert diarists

This year’s exam squad comes from Coláiste Chill Mhantáin in Wicklow town

This year’s exam squad comes from Coláiste Chill Mhantáin in Wicklow town. Video: Daniel O'Connor

Wed, Jun 4, 2014, 00:00

Ten years ago, the fields at Burkeen, Co Wicklow, were just marked by a back road from Rathdrum to Wicklow town. Now it’s the site of hundreds of homes that mushroomed in the dying days of the boom, chiefly for young adults working in Dublin. As you leave the main road to enter Burkeen the first building to catch the eye is the modish monolith, Coláiste Chill Mhantáin.

Opened in 2011, this state-of-the-art building has capacity for 1,000 students and looks like a research facility. No musty back corridors or draughty sash windows here: this is all glass and light and clean architectural lines.

Most pupils at this growing school come from Wicklow town and surrounding estates.

Coláiste Chill Mhaintáin is an amalgamation of co-ed Abbey Community School and all-boys De La Salle College. Building a new community from two older schools poses two key challenges, says principal Padraig Donoghue.

“We were determined students should not feel lost in such a big building with so many students, especially those that had initially chosen to go to smaller schools. We’ve worked very hard to maintain a “small school” feel, by making sure students are dealing with the same teachers each day and providing pastoral and counselling support.”

To counter cuts to guidance provision nationally, Donoghue and his management team have been creative with resources, using a team approach to counselling that employs year heads, mentoring, chaplaincy, peer support and guidance counselling.

The school has streamlined internal communications not unlike something you’d find in a multinational. “We publish a ‘daily document’ to inform all staff of what’s going on in the school,” Donoghue says. “The history teacher knows that a student in the class is playing a match or that somebody’s granny passed away. This warm flow of information is very important in developing the students’ sense of self.”

The feeling of newness in Coláiste Chill Mhaintáin is palpable, not just because of the building but because of the surrounding estates, roads and roundabouts, the “mixed-use” development created late in the boom.

The school is a huge blank space inside but student artwork is creeping over the expanses of bright plasterwork in halls and corridors. But it’s not just about creating a new identity. The school amalgamation brings a ready-made history.

“We continue to celebrate the traditions of De La Salle and Abbey Community School,” says Donoghue, who was deputy principal at the latter. “We’re also building on the strengths here. GAA is a big deal in Wicklow so we put a lot of emphasis on that. We are also putting energy into girls’ soccer. We have just started an equestrian club, with the help of parents, which will also contribute to the schools’ sense of itself and connection to the surrounding environment.”