Saturday, 20 December 2014

‘We need to plan now to ensure success for our children’ – School Principal


The fabulous new extension at Scoil Mhuire Primary School in Roscommon town was officially opened last week with Bishop Christopher Jones celebrating Mass and blessing the new facility. 

  During her address to guests the principal of Scoil Mhuire, Ms. Una Feeley spoke of her frustration and sadness at the fact that the health, housing and economic needs of some children are not being met. 

  Referring to the fact that Roscommon has become a multi-cultural society, Ms. Feeley said the school now has sixteen different nationalities. 

  “The vision for our school is that each person through positive learning experiences will be stimulated to achieve his/her full potential, face life confidently and find fulfilment in an every changing world. This is a challenge for all of us. If we need guidance we need look no further than the under 7s playing in the school playground. They are not concerned about where their friends come from, how much money their parents have, the colour of their skin or their peers standing in society. They just want to have a good time.”  

  Ms. Feeley said that the school was one of just over 100 schools nationwide wchih was recently invited to take part in an international assessment of literacy, science and mathematics. 

  “This is the first time since 1995 that Ireland participated in an international assessment of primary school children. Internationally, 64 countries participated. Seventy one per cent of the children in our school, Scoil Mhuire, scored ‘above average’, with 44% scoring in the High Average and well above average range, with some in this group having English as a second language. We look forward to finding out how our school is rated against other schools internationally, next year.

  “There are many past pupils who did well in school, chose to rear their families in Roscommon and are successful business people and professionals contributing to the success of our town. There are also children today in the town who are disadvantaged by their family circumstances. Many of these adults are the children of parents who found themselves in similar circumstances, when they were pupils attending schools in Roscommon. My vision for the Roscommon of 2020 is that it should be a place where predictions of ‘success’ or ‘disadvantage’ cannot so confidently be made about a child as it comes into the world. Rather it should be a place where any parents of a newborn baby can be sure that the needs of their child will be met by the community of Roscommon, regardless of its parents’ income. I would go further, beyond just meeting the basic needs of children but ensuring equal access for all, to all activities – ballet, soccer, football, piano, violin, golf, Irish dancing, etc. 

  “As principal I sometimes feel very inadequate, sad, frustrated in the Roscommon I grew up in and love, as I am in a school with some children every day whose health, housing and economic needs are not being met and whose ‘well-being’ is compromised and choices restricted from the day they are born. 

  “One of my saddest memories, as principal, was when I visited a family in a house they had been forced to move to, that day. The windows of the house were boarded up, with broken glass on the ground below them. The house was dark, musty and dusty inside. While I visited, six to eight men in white coats and masks moved about, removing rubbish, attempting to clean the house while the children were inside. A five year old boy, petrified, clung to his older sister. He and his siblings were moved to this house and expected to stay in an environment where adults, for hygiene and safety reasons, had to wear white masks and coats? In school I learned to “treat others as I would like to be treated myself”. There is no way I would have moved with my family into this house. I was ashamed, sick and terribly upset that in the town I loved so well this could happen. The mother of this family refused to live in this house and rightly so. Thanks to the Housing Authority and Roscommon County Council the family are now living in excellent accommodation, attending school regularly, and happy. 

  “We in Roscommon cannot continue to allow children to be treated unequally because of the circumstances of their parents and families. Talking about it is easy. Doing something about it and making a difference is the challenge. 

  “I suggest that we in Roscommon adopt what I would call a What? Why? Who? How? and When? plan focusing on what should be done over the next ten years to ensure success for all of the children in Roscommon town, irrespective of their particular circumstances. Change is inevitable but that change must have at its heart a ‘moral purpose’. 

  “The first step I believe is not to pass judgement, get rid of the ‘blame’ mentality and accept that poverty in Roscommon town exists. More and more people are joining the dole queues and experiencing consistent poverty. People who in the past, labelled ‘middle class’, now find themselves in the dole queue. Before I took up the post of principal I was unaware of the difficulties some young children faced in Roscommon town. Our children deserve to be treated equally and with respect always. 

  “In Roscommon town there are many wonderful people, often times working voluntarily to assist people in the community including children e.g. Vincent De Paul, the Lions Club, Vita House, the Youth Club, Quad Centre, Health Board, the Gárdaí, Social Services, Sporting organisations etc. but with some welcome exceptions these bodies tend to work in isolation. The effort is disjointed. As a community the leaders of these bodies need to get together, at least once monthly to identify the children at risk and do all they can to ensure the needs of children are met irrespective of their family income, setting or circumstance. The focus has to be on the child. If we centre all we do on the well being of the child we can be sure that our efforts are impacting on the right person. For this reason I think schools are perfectly placed to facilitate these meetings. I also feel that people who have retired have so much to offer our children. 

  “Our children deserve us to give them the very best so that our town shines into the future – an example to all other towns in the country.”