Secondary School Story
July 23, 2018
Maeve Majewski, a parent of three sons, shares her experience of sending her eldest son Luke to North Wicklow Educate Together Secondary School.
My decision to send Luke to Educate Together in Bray wasn’t one I made easily. I found that I felt an extra element of pressure in choosing a secondary school compared to what I had felt when I chose a primary school. For me, choosing my children’s primary school mainly came down to their happiness. I wanted somewhere where they would be happy.
In choosing a secondary school, I felt I needed to consider a whole other list of priorities. Mainly, will this school help my child reach their full potential; will this school prepare my child for college, the work force and the life that lies ahead of him? It was these priorities that brought me to decide upon Educate Together.
Educate Together Secondary Schools are moving away from the Irish system of “teaching to the test”, i.e. the leaving cert. They have recognised and acknowledged a massive issue in our education system, one which becomes particularly obvious at third level. Teaching our young people to solely develop the skill of regurgitating information in the leaving cert. does not prepare them properly for life. On average, one in every six first year students in Ireland drop out of their college course; I think that’s really concerning.
So, while I obviously recognise the importance of the leaving cert as a necessary door into third-level education, I also want my children to have a balanced and holistic education that prepares them for life.
Educate Together places an emphasis on students developing skills such as creative and critical thinking, teamwork, research, and leadership. These are skills I want my children to have, especially considering the work force that their generation is entering: one where people will need to be adaptable and capable of managing many career changes. And also working in new careers and industries, some of which don’t yet exist today!
Something that I am asked about regularly, having a child in an Educate Together Secondary School, is “does the school follow the national secondary school curriculum?” And the answer is yes. Luke is taking 5 core subjects and 3 optional (Business, Art, and Spanish) for his junior cert. Educate Together have also, alongside these subjects, introduced short courses into the weekly time table, and Luke has found these to be really interesting. Some of the short course subjects offered in Bray are Forensic Science, Coding, and Philosophy. I can genuinely say that Luke is stimulated and interested most days at school. And I think that is pretty rare for a 13 year old!
Luke’s school has an AMAZING Guidance Counsellor. She has introduced a “careers’ night” into the first year calendar and hopes to roll it out as a yearly event. The students prepared for this event by choosing their DREAM career and then they researched what college courses or training might be needed to access it. At Luke’s careers’ night we heard speakers from Trinity College Admissions Office, the VEC, and many others speakers. It was a brilliant way of getting the kids to focus on figuring out what they really enjoy doing and then using that realisation to lead on to focusing on how to make that an achievable career path.
She has also been incredibly proactive in encouraging the children to speak out and ask for help if they are struggling with any emotional or anxiety issues. She started the school year by giving each student a bundle of “appointment cards”, and explained that if they were ever feeling overwhelmed or worried about anything, that all they needed to do was drop one of their cards into her office and she would organise for them to have a chat. I believe the uptake has been considerable. This, and other similar initiatives, have helped to create an atmosphere where the students feel comfortable in asking for help. This is something I feel incredibly grateful for, as a parent, knowing that Luke has the support of adults that he trusts and respects while he is at school; that really is a true gift.
Another interesting example of the innovation that Educate Together is incorporating into their secondary school curriculum is “interdisciplinary learning”. This is where topics are taught by merging relevant subjects together. So Luke studies a subject called “World Studies” which merges history and geography, two subjects that are obviously linked and complement each other when pulled together.
Another example of interdisciplinary learning is a project that Luke was involved in called “Colonizing the moon”. This project included the science behind space travel, the math behind space travel, the ethical considerations, practicalities of construction in space and so on. Luke and the other first years were split into small groups. Each group researched and examined a different aspect of the topic and then each group presented their findings to the whole year. Luke’s group looked at the area of “The Wellbeing of the colony”, covering their mental, physical and social wellbeing. It was fascinating!
Another question that I get asked frequently about Luke attending an Educate Together Secondary School is “are there any after school activities?” So, just in case you were wondering, yes there are! The students in Bray can choose from football, basketball, Ultimate Frisbee, Cookery Club, and Dramatic Performance. And there are also some “drop in clubs” that go on at lunch time during the school day. One of them is called Friendship club. It’s designed to be a safe space where kids can go if they are feeling left out or isolated at lunch time.
I can really and truly put my hand on my heart and tell you that I have no regrets about my decision to send Luke to an Educate Together Secondary School. He is incredibly happy in school, and genuinely feels like a valued part of his school community. I feel really lucky that my son goes to the school he does.
The opportunity for an Educate Together for our community is coming with the parental vote expected to take place in September. Make sure you're kept up to date by signing up here: https://tinyurl.com/y83284pf