Exploring science: The young leading the young

School helps build relationship between students and the biggest employers in the locality

Mount Sion in Waterford runs a paired science project where transition year students work with primary school pupils. Photograph: Colin Shanahan

Mount Sion in Waterford runs a paired science project where transition year students work with primary school pupils. Photograph: Colin Shanahan


School: Mount Sion CBS, Waterford

It isn’t always easy to get young people interested in science. But a new and innovative project at Mount Sion, an all-boys school in Waterford city, has opened up the subject – and careers in the area – to its students.

Colette Kearney is a science teacher and learning support coordinator at Mount Sion. “Some years back, we started paired reading, a project whereby transition year pupils taught literacy skills to fifth-class primary school children across a six-week block,” she says. “It was a different style of teaching and it put more responsibility on the senior pupils. By the end of the project, we were very impressed with improvements in literacy skills in both junior and senior pupils. We also noticed that the TY students had a much greater empathy for their teachers and the complexity of teaching.”

At the time, a locally-based pharmaceutical firm, Sanofi, was working with Mount Sion to help the school redesign its schoolyard and PE facilities. “After the success of the literacy programme, we wanted to run a paired science programme and we had a good relationship with Sanofi, so it made sense to work with them. We designed a six-week programme around diabetes and, the following year, on multiple sclerosis.”

‘Career in science’

These seem like very specific topics for secondary school students to teach to younger pupils. Why did they choose them? “Because Sanofi makes or packages products for these two diseases and it builds a relationship between our students and one of the biggest employers in the area, making them see that they could have a career in science and a good employment opportunity when they finish college. But the programme also teaches body systems, the immune system, health and safety in labs, and acids and bases. There’s also lab work and a site visit to Sanofi or the Waterford Institute of Technology, who have come on board to offer support. And the students meet Liam, a man with MS and get to see how science really can change lives for the better. We’re reaching primary-school children at a young age and giving them access to science labs which they would not otherwise have. We really felt that this is a model that could be rolled out nationwide.”

Seven other schools are now running the programme. In a city and county with a higher-than-average unemployment rate, Sanofi is a vital employer and initiatives like this can make a big difference.

Factfile: Mount Sion CBS, Waterford

Mount Sion, an all-boys Christian Brothers school in the heart of Waterford city, is a voluntary secondary school with 290 students. It is a designated DEIS school with a Catholic ethos.

Subjects offered: Agricultural science, business, biology, chemistry, construction studies, design and communication graphics, engineering, French, geography and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. However, history is not offered at Leaving Cert level. The school prides itself on offering an array of supports to all pupils irrespective of their need, and has 22 nationalities in the school.

Interesting fact: Back in 1802, Mount Sion was the first Edmund Rice school established. Edmund Rice’s remains are in the school’s chapel and it is considered the spiritual home of Christian Brothers’ education, maintaining strong links with other schools worldwide.

Website: MountSionCBSSecondary.ie