A big first as two State-run community schools open


Community model primary schools are a major departure in a society where the schools are traditionally church-run, writes Genevieve Carbery

IT WAS a big day in the life of 4½-year-old Aaryan Kumar, as he skipped through the newly painted green doors of a school at 8.20am yesterday, but as one of the first of some 66 junior infants to start in the new school he was also making history.

Scoil Ghráinne in Phibblestown, near Clonee, Co Meath, was one of two State-run primary schools opened yesterday in a new departure for the State.

The school, along with Scoil Choilm in Porterstown, is run by the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC) and is the first in the new community model of primary school. Several hundred such schools are expected to be opened over the next decade.

A spokesman for the Irish Bishops' Conference said the Catholic bishops not only welcomed "a diversity of patrons within the education sector but encourage diversity within education delivery". The vast majority of primary schools in the State operate under the patronage of the Catholic Church. Twenty-three country flags pinned on a world map in the school's entrance-hall paid homage to the diversity of its pupils, about 85 per cent of whom are first generation Irish citizens.

Aaryan's mother, originally from Vietnam, yesterday explained that her son has been waking up every day for the past few weeks asking could he go to school yet.

Adesanmie Adetogun was also excited about school. "He woke up this morning and said: 'I'm going to school, I'm going to school. He is so happy in his new uniform'," his proud father Medesanmi Adetogun, who is originally from Nigeria, explained.

Like most of the parents, Medesanmi Adetogun picked the school because it was close to home but said he is happy that it is a multicultural school. "It is good that everyone is integrated together," he said.

Quiet descended on the school shortly after 9am as most of the children happily peeled open the brand new boxes of bricks and toys in the classrooms.

"I feel some butterflies," said Ludmila Beril, after she left her six year-old son Darias behind in his classroom. Ms Beril, originally from Moldova, has been living in Ireland for about five years. She considered her son's first day at school as part of settling into life in Ireland.

The school has just three classes, all junior infants, with three mainstream teachers and three English language support teachers.

Teacher Deirdre McKenzie said it was a new experience for her to have children from so many nationalities. "I mostly worked in Catholic schools before where you might have had one or two nationalities," she said.

Religious instruction at Educate Together primary schools takes place outside of normal school hours. However, Scoil Ghráinne will run a newly developed pilot programme for religious instruction taught during school time, principal David Campbell explained.

"It will be multi-faith religious education instead of a Catholic programme," he said. "It will be one common programme initially and we will address the main tenets of faith, the commonalities shared by faiths, rather than separating them into different religions."

He said the only situation in which children might be separated for religion classes at some stage would be with one class a week, to prepare for First Holy Communion.

Jennifer McManus, who brought her young daughter Niamh to school yesterday, is excited about the new type of school.

"I think it is great and she gets opportunities whatever the religion and will have the chance to take the sacraments," she explained.

The school is in a temporary building on the same grounds as a new VEC post-primary school.

However, a permanent 24-classroom school is expected to be opened by 2010 to accommodate the primary school as it grows, the chief executive of Co Dublin VEC Pat O'Connor explained yesterday.