Doras Feasa Fiafraí: Gaelscoil na Laochra celebrates 5 years in Birr
Gaelscoil na Laochra in Birr recently celebrated its 5 year anniversary after first opening its doors in September 2015. The school was initially established by the Department of Education in September 2015 after a local Irish language campaign led by 'Biorra le Gaeilge' members, Seán Ó Cearbhaill, Stella Ní Mháille and Rosalind Fanning. It was the first new school founded in the area in over 100 years and still remains the only multi-denominational school in the town.
In the last number of years, the school has gone from strength to strength and now caters for students from Naíonáin Shóisearacha (Junior Infants) to Rang 6 (6th Class). During the early years of its foundation, the school community decided on the seanfhocal 'Doras Feasa Fiafraí' as the school's motto, meaning 'the door to knowledge is to question'. This motto is very much reflected in the school's ethos and vision to this day, which places a strong emphasis on the development of critical thinking and creativity amongst its pupils.
Ailbhe Ni Churraoin, who has been a teacher at the school since it first opened, recently reflected on the school's initial establishment and the vision of the founding committee of the school. 'There was very much a sense that everyone in the school community wanted something a little bit different from the norm here and there was collective agreement that the development of imagination and creativity along with a celebration of Irish language and culture would be to the fore in the school's educational vision.' Over the last number of years, the school has explored a variety of ways in which to develop the children's creative skills across different disciplines. For example, in drama the pupils have been involved in co-creating a piece of theatre for young audiences with leading drama practitioners based in Mary Immaculate College and later this year will work with renowned Irish-language theatre group, Branar, to explore theatre design, drama and puppetry in response to a work of art. The pupils are also developing their photography skills as the school works towards their first 'Positive Primaries' award. The school's pupil-led Creative Wellbeing Committee helps the school to explore ways in which they can use the arts and other subjects to support student wellbeing. The school's emphasis on the arts, STEM and creativity has been recognised in recent years having had finalists in both the 'Someone Like Me' and 'Doodle for Google' national art competitions.
Colm Ó hAnluain, the founder of 'Cog & Axle' which develops interactive and practical STEM resources for teachers, is the school's Junior Class Teacher and has a particular input into the school's STEM Education programme which includes helping the pupils prepare for and participate at the ESB Science Blast, delivered by the RDS, one of the highlights of the school year. The school has participated at the exhibition since its inception. Great emphasis is put on exploring practical solutions to everyday challenges the pupils encounter – to this end, the pupils engage in lots of designing and making, using appropriate hand tools (hand drills etc.) and construction materials. Each day, time is given to freely explore these materials and to engage in construction projects. The school hopes to further investment in purchasing resources that encourage hands-on problem solving and developing the use of construction tools on a larger scale. Outside of school, Colm is currently working on a television series in conjunction with TG4 and Abú Media about engineering aimed at a younger audience; this will air in September 2021.
In terms of digital technologies, school principal, Tomás Ó Cadhain, believes that it is important to develop pupils’ digital, collaborative and problem-solving skills through the use of content creation tools, apps and robotics. In Gaelscoil na Laochra, pupils have access to an individual iPad or Chromebook which they can use to explore and create content for their learning. These devices have been shared with families during periods of school closure to ensure that teaching, learning and assessment can be facilitated in an online capacity. “In terms of distance learning”, Tomás explains that “our pupils are engaging in daily learning activities and uploading evidence of their work for correction and feedback. We have also recently partnered with Glór na nGael to promote the use of the Irish language in the child’s home. This partnership has provided us with the opportunity to participate in fun, online fitness and art classes ‘as Gaeilge’. We are passionate about promoting the Irish language in our school community and look forward to engaging in quizzes, bingo and many more online, interactive activities to encourage whole family engagement over the coming weeks. Beatha teanga í a labhairt.”
In October 2020, thanks to the excellent application submitted by deputy principal, Ailbhe Ní Churraoin, the school was awarded over €5,000 euro by Creative Ireland in recognition of its commitment to creative approaches to teaching and learning and was accepted for inclusion in the national Creative Schools programme. Following the award, the principal, Tomás Ó Cadhain explained, “This grant will mean that we can continue to enhance the pupils' creative skills and competencies. Involvement in the programme will also support us in developing a structured plan which will ensure that the school's vision to promote innovation continues well into the future.” He added that the school hopes to organise a larger event to celebrate the school's 5-year anniversary later in the year when it is safe to do so.
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