First-name terms set the tone on first day of school
YOGA AND meditation are just some of the activities on offer at the new Educate Together primary school in Kildare town.
On the first day for nervy pupils and parents, a CD playing classical music soothed those who needed soothing as the new class of 20 junior infants got accustomed to their surroundings.
The ham sandwich remains a perennial lunchbox favourite, while the merits of grapes and “Ben Ten” were debated around the table by pupils.
Parent Michelle O’Neill said her daughter Hayley had no first-day nerves. “There wasn’t a bother on her! She has done a year of playschool so I think that helps.”
Angela Hayden, a native of Moldova who lives in Rathangan in Co Kildare, said: “We enrolled my son Paul in the Educate Together school in Newbridge but thankfully this school opened in the town and we’re closer to it. I’m Christian Orthodox and my son is Catholic but I want him to be open and free-minded. Educate Together is the school of the future.”
Another parent Leonie Karakus said: “My husband is Muslim and he wants the kids brought up in the Muslim faith so Educate Together is the best option for us.
“The ethos is so different from other schools. I went to a Presentation convent myself and it was run by the nuns. Schools in my time were like hospitals, cold and clinical.
“This school is relaxed and I think kids learn better in a relaxed environment. They have a chill-out zone in one of the classrooms, which is great.”
Paul Rowe, chief executive of Educate Together, said the first day of school is a child’s “first interaction with the State so it is important that it is a positive experience for them”.
He said Kildare’s new Educate Together school was one of five the patron is opening at the beginning of this school year. The schools are multidenominational, co-educational, child-centred and democratically run.
“There is a huge demographic change on the commuter belt outside Dublin, and Kildare town would be a significant one. Educate Together is perceived as a modern, dynamic and appropriate way to prepare children for the diverse world they are entering,” Mr Rowe said.
Principal Gerry Breslin has always worked in Educate Together schools. “I worked in Lucan, Newbridge and was principal in Portlaoise for the past three years. It’s important to offer parents choice and this school reflects the needs of a changing town.
“We have a cross-section here of children who were born in Ireland and newcomer children too. They’re all getting on great together here and it’s only the first today.
“The parents have been very committed. It’s a leap of faith to say you’ll put your child in a school where the building isn’t finished, you don’t know who the staff are or you don’t know much about the ethos, but it has all come together.
“The kids call us by our first name – it breaks down barriers and gets rid of formalities. Some people say there’s a lack of respect when you use first names but the respect and ethos of the school is in the children from the start,” Mr Breslin said.
Junior infants teacher Hilary McLoughlin has taught in Educate Together schools for years in Dublin and Portlaoise.
“Educate Together appeals to me because of the respect and equality among everyone. Children call us by our first names, they don’t wear a uniform and we teach them about all the world religions,” she said.
She looks forward to using Aistear – a play-centred education programme that involves “junk art and dressing up”.
The chairwoman of the school start-up committee, Judith O’Connor, is originally from the UK but has lived in Co Kildare for the past 14 years.
“A lot of work has been done by parents to get this off the ground. I have one child starting today and another child enrolled for next year.”
Schools by the numbers
* Approximately 70,000 children return to school this September.
* Nine new primary and five new post-primary schools will be opening this September.
* The department does not set the date for the beginning of the school year.
* The date schools reopen after the summer holiday is decided at local level.
* Primary schools are required to be open for a minimum of 183 days in the school year.