Winning ways

 

When the principal of Colaiste Spioraid Naoimh in Cork mentions the pursuit of academic excellence as part of the school's ethos, he has plenty of evidence to back up this outlook. Confidently, Bertie O Ceilleachair says it comes as no surprise that one of the school's pupils won the Young Scientist of the Year award recently.

The winner, 15-year-old Raphael Hurley who is in third year, carried out a mathematical analysis of the board game, Monopoly. "I examined which streets are landed on most frequently, which colour groups are best, how much you can expect to earn from a community chest and how much the bank loses per turn.

"I came to a lot of conclusions and I have to say that luck is a big element of the game. But, if you apply my findings, you will significantly improve your game. Orange is the best colour, followed by green and then red."

Hurley also won a special award from the Irish Statistical Society for his findings. He is a very good advertisement for this 670-pupil allboys school in Bishopstown. "I like every single subject that I study," he says. "I'm just as interested in languages as I am in maths. I actually could see myself working in any field. I wouldn't rule anything out just yet. The school meets all my needs."

This Presentation Brothers school was founded in 1964 and has 39 teachers, 10 of them female. As if winning the Young Scientist of the Year award wasn't enough, the school also won the prestigious Observer Mace for debating last year.

First of all, the school had to win the all-Ireland Schools' Debating Competition before going over to England. "It's the first time an Irish school has won the Observer Mace," says O Ceilleachair proudly. "There was controversy about taking the Mace out of Britain and bringing it across here. We had to give a guarantee that we would insure it and keep it in a bank vault except for special occasions."

The debating team and its mentors were invited to Buckingham Palace to meet Prince Philip. "For the first time in an Irish school, we have a photograph of the Duke of Edinburgh with Irish students and teachers. We won the all-Ireland debating competitions several times.

"There is a climate in the school which encourages this kind of thing," says O Ceilleachair. "The philosophy of the school is the development of talents. Each and every student here, no matter what his intellectual capacity, has an opportunity to develop his talents.

"Another dimension of that is not just developing talent but using it to help and involve others. That's the kind of ethos we've had in the school from the beginning. There is also a strong emphasis on extra-curricular activities such as drama and, of course, debating, as well as hurling and football, soccer and basketball."

At the moment, a technology suite is being built in the school. It will facilitate construction studies, computer operations and technical graphics. "We have a broad curriculum with a strong practical element."

The school is very strong on computers. A computer programme was initiated in the school back in the Seventies. Computers were brought into the school and advice was on hand for other schools in the Munster area.

The story of Colaiste Spioraid Naoimh keeps reverting to what the boys have won. There were three other winners in various categories in the Young Scientist's competition - John Murray, Shane O'Connor and Peter Burke. Ian Conrick Martin, a former pupil, was a winner in The Irish Times Challenging Times quiz.

It's just one trophy after another - and it isn't all cerebral. The school has reached this year's semifinal in Gaelic football in Munster. As well as Gaelic games, the boys play soccer and basketball.

Dan Sweeney teaches maths, physics, chemistry and applied maths. "There is a big emphasis on those subjects," he says. "For example, we have two Leaving Cert honours classes in chemistry this year and we have three classes taking honours Leaving Cert standard physics. We focus to a large degree on science.

"It's good for jobs later on. Many of our past pupils have gone into electrical engineering, dentistry, medicine and computers. We have three laboratories at the moment - a physics laboratory, a chemistry laboratory and a biology laboratory."

There are 36 computers in the school, says Sweeney, who was put in charge of the various Young Scientist contenders last year. "Every fortnight, I would give advice to the students on presentation of their projects. It was very exciting. Peter Burke came third in his category with a study of the Australian Flat Worm. There was also a very interesting project on creativity enhancement."

Sweeney says that the week spent in Dublin during the Young Scientists competition was great fun. "The lads were mixing with other students and up talking all night in the hotel - mostly with girls!"