First day at school: Excitement and nerves, and that’s just the teachers

Kildare Educate Together opened in 2012 with 20 pupils and now has 380

Boys and girls on their first day in school. Video: Bryan O'Brien/The Irish Tims


It was Maria Byrne’s first day at her new school.

She was a little nervous.

And a little excited.

Actually, she was quite altogether excited but was managing very well to keep it all under control.

A poster on the wall of the school corridor showing a big friendly Gruffalo helped make the approach to her new classroom seem like a nice friendly place. Still, the nerves were there alright.

“I’m excited now,” said Maria, decked out in a lovely loose shirt all covered in foxes. “Excited and nervous,” she added.

Outside the classroom, a hubbub signalling an imminent stampede of small feet grew louder.

It was time for Maria (35) to concentrate on the job at hand – her first day at her new school, Kildare Town Educate Together – and the first day at “big school” for this year’s intake of four and five year olds.

The school, which opened in 2012 with just 20 pupils, now has 380 and, when the full intake cycle is complete next year, it will be home to some 440 boys and girls. There are 14 classes plus two that cater for children with autism.

While the Educate Together school has grown rapidly since its inception, a nearby Gaelscoil also has about 150 pupils and the town’s main primary school, St Brigid’s, has more than 1,000 pupils.

School ethos

There is no religious iconography in the reception area of the Educate Together school. But there is a poster sign – “equality and justice” – that encapsulates the school’s ethos.

Elsewhere, among the Gruffalos and elephants fashioned from patches of cloth and poster exhortations to be kind to the environment, there are numerous photographs of boys and girls at the school, including the members of its Student Council.

Kildare town is a place reflecting the increasing racial and ethnic diversity of Ireland, a fact evident from the photographs of children. A full 23 per cent of those attending the Educate Together school have English as their second language.

“We’re delighted about that,” said head teacher Gerry Breslin, “because that diversity brings in a richness.”

They learn fast in the classroom and playground, he said, adding that the staff’s main aim was to make sure that children were happy.

“That’s our one philosophy,” he said. “Happy children learn. If they’re happy, they are confident. It’s all about building a respect between the staff and the children.”

Bags of confidence

Emily Moore (4) brought bags of confidence with her for her first day, buoyed perhaps by what she heard of the school from big sister Lucy, already in second class.

Led into Ms Byrne’s classroom by her mum and dad, Mel and Wayne Moore, she sat down immediately at one of the tiny tables and began building a mighty edifice from coloured plastic building thingies.

“A budding engineer,” offered The Irish Times.

“I hope so,” said a smiling Wayne.

“She was very excited,” said Mel. “This is my third child starting at school. It’s been a long summer.”

The seats around the small tables soon filled and, as adoring parents stood back watching, the children set to – drawing, putting things together into all sorts of daft shapes and sizes, and chatting among themselves.

Juanita and Mohammad Carroll beamed as Yasmine (5) got stuck in, not a bother on her.

“She was talking about it all week,” said Juanita. “So excited about big school. She’s a little bit nervous.”

“We’re all a little nervous,” chipped in Mohammad.

New-found friends

It was first day also for Safia O’Donnell (5) whose mum and dad, Claire and Ernan, watched her blend in seamlessly with her new-found friends.

Was it important for them to send her to an Educate Together school?

“Yes,” said Claire. “If they want to be religious, they can choose when they’re 18.”

For Maria Byrne, moving to the Educate Together school from a denominational school elsewhere in Kildare, was a personal choice, one she pursued since qualifying as a teacher three years ago.

And, as the children settled down, works of art and future skyscrapers emerging on the tiny tables, Ms Byrne indicated to parents that it was time for them to withdraw.

“Thank you so much,” she said, “and don’t forget to come back for them.”

As if they would . . .

They shuffled out, peering nervously over their shoulders at a room buzzing with happy industry and budding friendships.

Cyril Daly, a big man, was on the edge of his emotions as he walked away from daughter Oenone, aged five, so named to acknowledge her Greek heritage (Oenone, the first wife of Paris of Troy, whom he abandoned – the rat! – for the Queen Helen).

Oenone of Kildare town was doing fine on her first day at school. Her father is expected to be okay too . . .