The birth of Suas ar Scoil
“Visiting the school twice a week and working in these intensive groups has proven to be a huge success, not only improving the capabilities of the students but also their self-confidence with Gaeilge.”
“The experiences from working in disadvantaged schools at home and abroad inspired me to create what is now Suas ar Scoil. I just knew that education was about more than the Leaving Cert. That made it a lot easier to walk into a Suas committee meeting and say hey, I have an idea.” The brainchild of Chris Claffey, a fourth year Psychology student, Suas ar Scoil commenced three years ago. According to Claffey, it was inspired by the failures of our current education system. Suas ar Scoil aims to teach transferable life-long skills through sustained, regular interactions between Trinity volunteers and students in Rosary College, Crumlin. The mentors enable the second year and transition year classes of the DEIS school to critically evaluate their world while also appreciating the difficulties of others. With the help of over 40 volunteers, the interactive workshops utilise a number of methods, including global issues, debating, law, and drama, to deliver on these goals.
Speaking to Trinity News, Claffey described how “the Irish education system is rooted in a bygone industrial era that aimed to mass-produce workforces rather than cultivate critical and compassionate minds”. Since its inception in 2015, the Suas ar Scoil programme has provided over 35 workshops to over 100 students aged between 12 and 17 years. Each year the programme culminates with a graduation ceremony that takes place in Trinity. This year, the graduating students will demonstrating what they have learned through a “Humans of New York”-style art exhibition, a mock trial and a reenactment of Emmet Kirwan’s ‘Heartbreak’”.
The volunteers are trained to be mentors and role models to these students. They get to know the students and use that bond to help provide a more holistic learning experience. “We have all just left secondary school so we understand the problems better than anyone. The sustained relationship through visiting the school weekly and discoursing with the teachers allows us to see what is needed and design programmes which best suit the needs of students,” says Claffey.
Last November saw the introduction of a new Irish language pilot programme to Suas ar Scoil, which aims to re-engage students with the country’s native tongue. Previous feedback from teachers revealed that they struggled to provide students with the individual attention needed to learn the language, resulting in ambivalence towards the subject. The Suas ar Scoil team recruited seven Trinity Gaeilgeoirs to help address this issue. The student-teacher ratio for the new programme is now 1:3 rather than 1:25; the latter is the national norm for an Irish class. Visiting the school twice a week and working in these intensive groups has proven to be a huge success, not only improving the capabilities of the students but also their self-confidence with Gaeilge. The students will be performing Coláiste Lurgan’s version of “Pompeii” at the graduation ceremony on 22 March.
Links with TAP
“We just acted as a middleman, but we’re hoping to supplement the work of TAP with our new future pathways programme designed by one of our members, Oisin Galvin.”
Suas ar Scoil has also initiated a link with the Trinity Access Programme, who will be sending ambassadors to the school in the coming weeks to encourage students to attend Trinity and explain how this can be achieved. Claffey explained: “This really came as a result of last year’s graduation ceremony, where we had brought in students to see the college. Students were saying: ‘Wow this place is cool, how can I come here?’ But they really didn’t think they could, which was so infuriating. When a 16 year-old is thinking that negatively about their future something has to be done. I talked to the teachers and the principal and although they heard about TAP they hadn’t been approached about it. I contacted TAP and they straight away explained how they can send ambassadors to talk to students, parents and teachers to explain the options for the students. We just acted as a middleman, but we’re hoping to supplement the work of TAP with our new future pathways programme designed by one of our members, Oisin Galvin.”
Galvin, a fourth year Law student and one of the group leaders, is coordinating volunteers to design workshops about their particular course, what it entails, what jobs can be pursued and the other opportunities it can lead to. Galvin hopes this will empower students to make their own informed choices when the dreaded CAO deadline approaches.
The current co-ordinator also expressed his hope for expanding the Suas ar Scoil programme to other DEIS schools around Ireland, but emphasised that it must be a controlled expansion. “Working with children is a huge responsibility. We strive to ensure excellence in our Garda vetting and child protection procedures which hinders the speed of our programme delivery. We could have looked at going into more schools to raise our numbers this year, but that is not what the programme is about. We are committed to providing a quality service with long term benefits for these students through a professional, healthy and sustainable partnership with the school.”