Happy days at Newtown Upper National School. Lucy Graham (left), a first class pupil, was delighted to have some fun with her sister Ella on her first day at school. On right is their mother Claire.
On Tuesday last at the picturesque setting of Newtown Upper National School, Faugheen, the hills came alive to the sound of music once more, or more precisely to the joyful buzz of 59 children returning to school after a near six-month hiatus.
Located between the rural villages of Faugheen and Ahenny and snugly nestled beneath Newtown Woods, the school is this year 152 years in existence, but it is highly unlikely in all that proud history if the school has ever experienced a reopening like this one.
Over the past few months school principal Breda Fitzgerald and all the staff at Newtown Upper NS put in a summer like none before in preparation not just for the reopening day but in anticipation of what will be an unprecedented year ahead in education. That effort, fully appreciated by everyone in the community, especially the parents, will hopefully, allow the principal and teachers do what they do best, to educate.
“During normal summer holidays, I would dip in and out doing jobs but this year has been very hectic. While we awaited instruction from the Department of Education and Skills, we all rolled up our sleeves and got stuck into into deep cleaning so that once we received the official plan, we were ready for heavier work moving furniture, etc,” said Breda.
“There was a lot of paperwork and the Board of Management were meeting on Zoom and then in physically distanced meetings. Our most recent meeting involved a 56 question checklist to ensure our reopening plan was robust,” added the school principal.
“We have kept parents informed as information became available but our main aim has always been to reassure parents we would be open,” added Breda who has been a teaching principal for 18 years and who this year will teach the 5th and 6th classes at Newtown Upper NS.
A player/manager so to speak in her own capacity as teacher/principal, Ms Fitzgerald was quick to point out the wonderful team effort of all involved in the huge effort required for Opening Day.
“At Newtown, there are three classroom teachers and one Special Education Teacher (SET). We also have a part-time secretary and a wonderful caretaker and cleaner. Each and everyone plays a huge part in the successful running our school.
Newtown Upper NS principal, Ms Breda Fitzgerald.
“The only disappointment I have is that school secretaries have not been acknowledged in the essential role they play at this difficult time. Increased paperwork, online form filling, liaising with the Department and reassuring parents who will be unable to come into our schools like before. These are just some of the extra demands on secretaries who are the welcoming face in our schools. At Newtown, our secretary, Imelda, is the backbone of the school,” added Breda.
She went on to point out: “Having seen and survived many challenges throughout the past 150 years - including the threat to close small schools in 2010 - this school now feels it has a distinct advantage in having small classes and plenty of outdoor space.”
Outlining some of the practical steps the school has undertaken to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, a parent could only feel reassured by the detail in the school’s plans for the year ahead.
“We have staggered morning arrivals and evening collections already as our school is situated on a narrow, minor road.
“For break time our Senior Classes will play on the school pitch whilst the other two classroom groups will share the divided playground.
“Teachers and our SNA will be on constant breaktime supervision which is normal in smaller schools. We learn to eat on the go!
Staff at Newtown Upper National School, Faugheen, Carrick-on-Suir are all set for a very busy year ahead. Front row from left: Louise Moore SNA, Roisin O’Neill Middle Class teacher, Nikki O’Neill Principal Supply teacher. Back row: Fr Paul Waldron Chairperson, Breda Fitzgerald School Principal, Imelda Dunphy secretary, Ann Marie Quigley Special Education teacher, Niamh Cummins Junior Class teacher.
“Entry and exit points have been designated to avoid groups gathering and masks and visors will be worn where two metres cannot be observed,” added Breda.
“Classrooms will not be sterile unwelcoming places even though furniture has been removed to allow for physical distancing. The walls will soon be filled with the children’s colourful artwork. There is no denying that staff, parents and pupils will carry some sense of worry and uncertainty in the year ahead but we are confident that our strong school community will work together to do our very best to keep everyone safe and well as we re-engage in learning in a new way,” concluded Ms Fitzgerald.