By Thomas Lawrence
The first Mayo children to finish their primary school education in the Educate Together programme graduated from Newtownwhite National School last Tuesday week.
Located near Killala, Newtownwhite ETNS became the first school in Mayo to adopt the Educate Together ethos in 2014. The school was opened in 1906 and remained a Church of Ireland school until the change eight years ago. Enrolment numbers at the school have doubled in that period.
Caroline Walkin, principal of Newtownwhite ETNS, delivered an inspirational and good-humoured speech at the graduation ceremony, celebrating each student for their own unique contribution to the classroom and for the way they navigated the difficulties of the Covid pandemic.
“I commend you all for your resilience, your smiles, your never-ending sense of humour, and your patient smile when myself and Elaine go into hysterics at the drop of a hat.
“I have never got up in the morning and felt like I didn’t want to go to work that day. I have always felt like Newtownwhite ETNS is an extension of my family.”
It’s a bittersweet day for Caroline who has taught the class since she joined the school in 2018. Her relationship with the students is one that she regards as a friendship, a two-way street based on the Educate Together ethos.
“I’ve taught them since third class and they’ve been with me every day throughout Newtownwhite, so next year will be my first without this class. I’m delighted for them, but I will miss them, and they’ve been pivotal in my role in the school as well.
“I’m actually really finding it difficult to imagine tomorrow afternoon when those children walk out the door for the last time. I feel like they’re an extension of myself.”
In Newtownwhite ETNS, the students have a say in how the school is run. A class can address their teacher by their first name and there is no school uniform. The new school logo was designed based on the children’s drawings, and they’ve had a say in multiple policies adopted by the school such as healthy eating and anti-bullying policies. Caroline is proud of this democratic system.
“The children have been a part of the students’ union, they have participated in forming the policies of the school, they are just as important as the staff of the school and there’s a mutual respect between us.”
While the school does not prepare classes for Catholic communion or confirmation, any student wanting to take part in religious services is not discouraged from doing so.
“Educate Together allows for children of all faiths, beliefs, backgrounds. We still follow the Irish curriculum just like any other school but there’s an open-minded aspect to it since I started teaching here. I’ve felt the children thrive with that ethos.