"I want to go to UCC." That's a common refrain from the class of 2016 at Nagle Community College, a co-educational post-primary school in Mahon on the outskirts of Cork city.
This is a designated disadvantaged school in a disadvantaged community, under the joint patronage of the local ETB and the Catholic diocese.
The Irish Times exam diarists from the college are Aoife O'Neil, Sarah Struthers, Rebecca Finn, Sean Flanagan, Roland Kamepko and Calvin Choy.
Not all the students aspire to top universities, says principal Ronan McCarthy, but they do all have aspirations to make a better life. Nobody says they want to go straight into work. Some want to go to UCC and some to Cork IT.
Many look to further education with a view to later entering a degree course; others look to apprenticeships. One wants to enter the Navy.
The school has a retention rate of 90 per cent, and there are 180 students, with 25 sitting the Leaving Cert this year. We’ll be following the progress of six of them over the first week of the exams.
“The advantage of a small school is that you know all the students and can offer them support,” says Mr McCarthy.
“Our main aim is to get them to sit the Leaving Cert. Our students are able to go to college but not always ready: they’re moving from a scenario where they get huge support in school to being left to their own devices at college.”
Mr McCarthy says that the achievement of a student who works hard for 300 points in the exam is every bit as significant as a student who – with extensive family support, grinds, a family and community history and tradition of education, a strong diet and an expectation of college – gets 6 A1s.
Both Mr McCarthy and the school’s guidance counsellor Pam O’Leary say they have focused on mental health over the past few years, and teens are under more pressure than ever before, particularly with the growth of social media.
But Ms O’Leary sees grounds for optimism. “What has really struck me...is how students really support each other and look out for each other’s mental health. They will sometimes come to me and tell me they are concerned about a classmate. There’s huge empathy there. It has helped that we have an autism unit and those students are their friends and classmates.”
The school offers a range of extracurricular activities including soccer, GAA. athletics, golf, CoderDojo, robotics and Irish dancing. Despite some initial reservations, the chess club is popular.
It is a school in transition and one with close links to the UCC Plus access programme. This aims to ensure students are aware of the full range of opportunities through summer camps and college visits, as well as developing relationships with the parents and a range of tailored supports including providing the grinds that students from wealthier backgrounds take for granted.
To de-stress, she spends time with friends, listens to music and walks “the line”, a popular spot along the River Lee. She loves children and loves spending time with them. She has one older sister and two younger sisters
Dream job: To work abroad as a midwife, ideally in Canada
College choice: Nursing studies at the College of Commerce leading to the midwifery degree in UCC
Favourite subject: Biology
Least favourite subject: Geography
Guilty pleasure: Listening to Slayer
When I get my Leaving Cert results I will... Try to be happy, and spend time with friends and family
Social media of choice: Twitter, mostly tweeting funny videos
Top study tip: Write lots of notes, keep reading until it stays in your head,
Biggest worry: Fear of not progressing from the College of Commerce into UCC
Most excited about: Travelling the world
Summing up Nagle: It’s welcoming and everyone gets on. I would like to see more focus on mental health
She is passionate about dancing, wants to be a professional dancer, and dances to de-stress, as well as going out with friends and listening to music. She has an older brother and an older sister.
Dream job: Dance teacher
College choice: Dance at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, leading to a degree course in Leicester in England
Favourite subject: Irish or construction studies
Least favourite: French or maths
Guilty pleasure: Irish! I’m not that great at it but do love it
When I get my Leaving Cert results, I will... Go out with my friends
Social media of choice: Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and especially Instagram, where I post dance pics
Top study tip: Never read the book, do the questions instead
Biggest worry: Adulthood
Most excited about: Being a dance teacher and being my own boss
Summing up Nagle: Caring, friendly, accepting
To relax, he practises mindfulness, plays computer games and takes part in soccer every Tuesday. He speaks Cantonese and a little Mandarin.
Dream job: Computer programmer working in a major European city
College choice: Computer science, UCC
Favourite subject: Maths
Least favourite: English
Guilty pleasure: Don’t have one
When I get my Leaving Cert results I will... Celebrate with family, go out with friends
Social media of choice: YouTube, where I post videos about games and gameplay
Top study tip: Listen to music to help focus
Biggest worry: Homelessness and the economy
Most excited about: The opportunities the world has to offer, and how much there is to learn
Summing up Nagle: It’s a small school so we get on well with the teachers
Born in Togo, he moved to Ireland when he was 12. He has two younger sisters and is fluent in French. To relax, he likes to watch TV, read fiction, play soccer and jog. He has two younger sisters.
Dream job: Chief executive of my own company, travelling the world
College choice: Biomedical engineering, CIT
Favourite subject: Biology and physics
Guilty pleasure: Not guilty about any pleasures!
Least favourite: Irish
Social media of choice: Facebook, sharing Game of Thrones videos
Top study tip: Be organised
Biggest worry: Climate change and the planet’s future
Most excited about: The possibilities of life
Summing up Nagle: The teachers really do care about your education and we all get along well
He is fluent in Irish and has one younger brother. To relax, he watches films, reads comic books, plays video games and, most of all, swims (“like a fish”, say his classmates). He is training to be a lifeguard.
Dream job: Crime scene investigator
College choice: Biological and chemical science, UCC
Favourite subject: English
Least favourite: French
Guilty pleasure: 1970s music
When I get my Leaving Cert results, I will... Breathe a sigh of relief either way
Social media of choice: Inactive Facebook account, very rarely on Twitter
Top study tip: Make a schedule and stick to it
Biggest worry: The state of the economy now and when I graduate
Most excited about: New technological breakthroughs
Summing up Nagle: It’s been like a second home and I will miss it a lot
She is fascinated by documentaries, books and TV shows about crime. She also loves computers. To relax, she reads and watches TV shows about crime, as well as looking at other shows on Netflix. She also paints. She has one older sister.
Dream job: None yet, would love to try a range of different areas and have a taste of everything
College choice: Software development and computer networking, CIT
Favourite subject: Art
Least favourite: Maths
Guilty pleasure: Keeping up with the Kardashians
When I get my Leaving Cert results, I will... Cry, whether they’re good or bad!
Social media of choice: Snapchat and Facebook
Top study tip: Keep your phone away
Biggest worry: The younger generation, from about 12, dress and act too grown-up. I was scared of teenagers when I was their age, but they don’t show any respect.
What excites me: Learning about crime
Summing up Nagle: Open, diverse, and a place where you can be yourself