Sitting at a colourful stall in their school, second class student Deeksha Pradeep Pai and first class student Andrea Anil wore their traditional Indian clothing and offered Indian breads and snacks to visitors on the school’s International Day.
Standing beneath a wall covered with dozens of Irish paper tricolours, the students were surrounded by several other stalls representing the school’s 25 different nationalities.
Bunscoil McAuley Rice in Co Kilkenny was the first primary school in the county to receive a School of Sanctuary award earlier this year for its work championing diversity in the school.
Founded in 2019, Schools of Sanctuary Ireland is a programme which recognises schools that have created an inclusive, welcoming and safe environment for pupils and their families, especially newcomers who come from refugee and migrant communities and other ethnic minorities, including the Traveller community.
The schools awarded have also built knowledge and understanding among the students and the staff about forced migration due to violence, persecution, famine and other threats to life and freedom.
Bunscoil McAuley Rice was one of 13 schools from around the country which gathered in Ireland in February to receive the award from Minister of Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman.
Last week, the school celebrated International Day by having the children from the school set up stalls offering traditional cuisine, displaying traditional instruments or other objects from the country, as well as pictures and maps of the areas.
James Manuel, in first class, was dressed in yellow and wore a headscarf with the word Brasil on it. At the Lithuania table, Martin Jagtybskas, a fifth class pupil, wore red and green and held a Lithuanian flag high above his friends as they posed for photos.
Three girls from Syria, Sham, Sidrra and Rahat, were handing out slices of glazed Syrian cake.
“Once a year we celebrate International Day in our school. Our children are learning about how other people live their lives and what their traditions are,” John Moloney, principal of Bunscoil McAuley Rice, said.
“We’re a school of 425 pupils in Callan, 10 miles outside Kilkenny city. I’ve been principal in the school here for the last 21 years, and when I arrived there were very few different nationalities in the school. That’s reflective of how Ireland has changed as a society and it’s of great benefit to everybody in society and in our school,” he said.
“We’re very aware that some of our students come from very different backgrounds. Some decided to move here for work or to better themselves, and then we also have students from Syria and Ukraine. School of Sanctuary is about creating a warm, welcoming, safe environment for those students and for their families,” Mr Moloney said.
Homayoon Shirzad, a co-ordinator with Schools of Sanctuary, and a refugee from Afghanistan, addressed the pupils on the day, thanking them for their “amazing journey” in making “students from all parts of the world feel welcomed and valued”.
Teacher Mark Kelly awarded several sixth class students for their “commitment to others” and “dedication in giving up your lunchtime to help our students from Syria and Ukraine with their reading”.
The reading club, which aims to help new students from other parts of the world learn English, is one of several initiatives set up by the school to create an inclusive environment.
Sophie Gregg Murray is one of the sixth class students awarded for her participation in the initiative. “Every Thursday we’d usually have a reading club for the refugee students and we’d partner up with them in the library and read books to them,” she said.
“If people come here without English, when they first enter the school we give them a bilingual welcome booklet and a tour of the school, and if someone speaks the same language, we have them give them the tour. If students don’t help other students, they can feel left out and a bit upset,” she said.
Her friend, Maeve Moore, was also awarded for her participation. There are students in the school from “most parts of the world”, she said, adding: “It makes it more interesting because you can learn a lot about different countries and their cultures and get to know that place if you want to visit later in life.”
It was important to help those students learn English, she said, “because if no one’s helping them then they just get stressed or worried or won’t feel like they fit in”.