Suzanne Dorrian on why the Educate Together ethos is so important to her and her family.
Educate Together: A Parent's Perspective
My name is Suzanne and I am a parent living in the Raheen area of Limerick. My two children attend the Educate Together national school on the grounds of Mungret College. I have no official capacity within Educate Together, I am speaking as a parent who believes in the ethos of this school.
Limerick ETNS is a co-educational school which opened in 2004 with a grand total of 12 children in Junior Infants. In the ensuing years it has grown twentyfold and currently has 244 students, 9 class teachers, 7 special educational needs teachers and 6 special needs assistants. There are 15 different nationalities and 11 different religions represented within the student body. 50% of the children who attend this school identify themselves as Catholic and 75% are from the Raheen/Dooradoyle area. This is as much a community school as any other.
My two boys are in Senior Infants and Second class so we've been a part of the Educate Together community for about three and a half years. My experience of the school has been one of openness and inclusion.
There is a strong emphasis on community - parents are actively invited to participate or contribute to school life in whatever capacity they feel comfortable. This might be helping out in a classroom, bringing forward ideas or suggestions for school activities or involvement with school events. The children engage with their teachers and their Principal in a confident and relaxed way and they too have a voice, through the school council, on how to make their school a better place for everyone.
Along with the usual academic subjects, the arts and crafts and sports school activities have included gardening, cooking, bird-watching and robotics to name a few. There have been trips to the theatre, nature walks, adventure tours and swimming; Thanksgiving celebrations, Halloween parades, African drumming workshops and World Culture Days involving flags from around the world, traditional foods from different countries and various cultural dress, dance and music traditions. On any given day my children might come home from school talking about Hanukkah, Ramadan, Chinese New Year, Hinduism or Baby Jesus. Other projects worth noting are the Green School programme which sees the children involved being responsible for drawing up plans to reduce litter, energy and water consumption within the school, and the Simon food appeal which gave the Second Class students the opportunity to be Simon Ambassadors with the role of raising awareness within the school about the work the Simon Community do. The most impressive thing about this school is its children. They are happy, vibrant and engaged. I have never seen kids to mix the way these kids mix. In my eight-year-old's class there are no cliques, no one is left out, they are in this together. If you asked him who are his friends at school he will most likely tell you everyone is his friend. Granted, this can be a bit of a headache when it comes to organising a birthday party!
We are hearing a lot in recent times about the need for greater diversity and equality within our education system. It is all over the media. Mostly I think we are hearing about diversity in relation to religion and I would like to cast the net a little wider and make this word relevant to us all. Diversity is defined as 'the state or quality of being different'. Just for a minute I'd like to ask you to think back to your own school days. Think about the kids you went to school with - your classmates. Were any of them different? What about the quiet kid who kinda does their own thing or the nerdy kid with the funny glasses, the kid with special needs or the super intelligent kid who is dumbing down so as not to draw attention to themselves. Maybe it's simply the clothes they wear, the music they listen to or their preferred pastimes. Are any of these kids being singled out or excluded?
Now, let me tell you, being singled out and excluded is no fun especially not when you are struggling to understand who you are and what this thing we call life is all about. You do not have to be of a different race or religion to be seen to be different. The truth is we are at once, all different and all the same. We all want the same things for ourselves and for our children. Opportunity, equality, acceptance, respect.
For me Educate Together is not so much about diversity of race or religion, while these are certainly important issues. For me it is more about an appreciation of all of our differences in whatever form they take. It is about teaching our children to appreciate these differences and showing them how such an appreciation can enrich their lives, and in so doing allow them the space to relax into their own unique expression of what it is to be human, and to feel supported in developing their full potential without the fear of being different.