We are a rural school, set in the heart of our community Derrynoose. We opened in September 2003, following the amalgamation of two smaller schools, Our Lady’s PS Carrickaduff and St. Mochua’s PS Derrynoose. Our ethos is reflective of all the best aspects of both schools and has been seamlessly embedded into all areas of life within our school. We believe that we are a school of the community and for the community. We were the proud recipients of Changemaker status in 2014 and remain the only school from Northern Ireland to achieve this award. We made a very decisive and conscious decision, within the first 2 years of achieving the award, that we would embed the core principles within our school fabric. We did not want it to be simply a title but be actively visible within the school. What sets a Changemaker school apart from all other schools? That was our starting point and in the subsequent years we have grown into our role as a Changemaker school. All staff and children are invested in this and we seek ways to promote the characteristics of being a changemaker.
We have been running the Roots of Empathy program since 2011. This is an evidence based program, founded by Mary Gordon and originating in Canada. It encompasses social and emotional literacy and tackles issues such as bullying and aggression. At the heart of the program a local parent and her baby visit a classroom 9 times over the course of the school year. The class interact with and observe the growth of the baby and attachment to its mother. The baby is the “teacher” and the catalyst which the instructor uses to help children to identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others – empathy. The instructor Mary, who is a staff member, visits the week before and after each family visit to reinforce teaching. While the mum and baby only visit one class the program is embedded across the whole school community. This is particularly important for our identity as Changemakers as all children and staff have an understanding and knowledge of the role of Roots of Empathy within our school. Our strong links with local charitable organisations such as Mary’s Meals, SVP and local nursing home foster and promotes our Changemaker values, particularly empathy.
We found that creativity was one of the more challenging pillars to put into practice within the school. However, it has evolved as we have progressed on our Changemaker journey. To ensure that creativity is fully understood we promote it through our curriculum work, our interactions with others and the children are encouraged to “think outside the box”. Through After Schools Clubs, local talent within the community and celebrating diversity we give the children and staff opportunities to be creative in their thinking and in their actions. There is an understanding within the school that we are educating the children for life and thus national and international activities form part of the curriculum of the school. Here the staff and children have opportunities to be creative thinkers about the world outside the classroom.
Leadership: Teacher and Student
While we do have a management structure within the school, all staff champion the skills of leadership. This is promoted through various committees; Pupil Leadership Team, Eco-Committee and Changemaker Committee which involves members of both teaching and non-teaching staff. All staff members are encouraged to award Changemaker marks in relation to the 4 key principles of Changemaker status. Many of our staff members are also leaders within the community and these skills are transferred into our school environment. Our ethos of inclusion allows all staff to feel that they can contribute to the overall management and running of the school.
Our school motto: Reaching for the future, a voice today means that we promote leadership qualities within our pupils. Their voice is heard through the Pupil Leadership Team, Changemaker Prefects, House Captains and members of various committees. The children know that they have a role to play in the school and that their opinions are important and valued. This idea is cultivated from Primary 1.
The staff in the school lead by example and teamwork is the bedrock on which our school has been founded. We support each other in our various roles and ensure that all work is a team effort. No task is seen as beneath any of us and when things need to be done we work as a team. The children can clearly see this in our day-to-day interactions with each other and it is then fed down into their behaviour. The expectation is that the children will also support each other, both in and out of class. They are also encouraged to support the staff in their various roles within the school.
Each year we have tried to build upon the practices which mark us out as a Changemaker school. For the last 6 years we have developed the 4 key principles of Changemaker status; empathy, leadership, teamwork and creativity. We are now looking at how we can innovatively build upon our progress and are seeking new ways to move forward as a Changemaker school. We would like to expand the ideals of Changemaker into our wider school community, particularly with our parents and the extended family circle. What is their understanding of Changemaker and how can we develop the ethos among them? What impact will this then have on our children and the community of Derrynoose as a whole?
Student Agency and Voice
We are proud of the opportunities we have developed to allow the children to be active participants in our school. The children vote for their representatives on our committees with the older children able to speak to their class about why they would like others to vote for them. The children can also nominate other children for a weekly Changemaker mark and explain how they demonstrated one or more of the key principles. Each classroom has a Suggestion Box and these suggestions are brought forward by the class representatives to the Pupil Leadership meetings. Our pupils lead assemblies, special occasions and House groups. As a staff we are always looking for opportunities to commend the children for acts of kindness and using their initiative. This was epitomised this year when Sarah was elected onto the Pupil Leadership Team by her classmates. As she had already served on a committee she decided to forgo her place for a child who had not yet served on a committee. Since she would not be able to serve on this committee again she was asked to discuss her decision with her family before a new election. Her family agreed with her and another child was elected in her place. We feel we are empowering our children to make these critical decisions and to understand the consequences of their actions.
We are a flagship school for the Young Enterprise program which educates and develops our children’s knowledge and understanding of business, entrepreneurship and social responsibility. In 2012 we won the prestigious Young Enterprise Award, A Centre of Excellence. This has been followed up by the Best Business Award, 2019 which the Primary 7 children won for their business, Oakers’ Enterprise. This business was set up in 2015 and each year produces a product which can be sold in the community. Part of the profits raised go to a nominated local charity. Last year we collaborated with Clontibret National School, as part of our Shared Education Partnership to produce Sweet Treats in time for the Easter market. Our Swop Shop Day has been running for many years and is one of the highlights of our school year. Children donate or sell new, second hand or handmade goods to each other in a stock market trading scenario. When the bell rings trading begins. Children are encouraged to donate some of their profits to a designated charity. In one particular year a child donated all £20 of her profits to the charity. Equally we have had children who sold all their goods and ended up with less money than when they began trading. Important lessons were learned by all!
One of our main concerns this year, as a result of the pandemic, was that we would lose the hidden, pastoral curriculum which is so dominant in our school. Each morning we have a whole assembly: praying together, singing Happy Birthday to any staff or children and communicating events and news. We always felt that it was so important for the children and the staff to visually see each other, first thing each day. We are able to celebrate news and events from home and school. We also place great importance on greeting anyone we meet each day by using their name. We made very a conscious decision to ensure that this type of wellbeing would not be lost as a result of the COVID 19 restrictions. We have put in place several strategies such as a staggered return to school in August, staff breakfast in August, socially distanced assemblies outside at least twice a week, a curriculum heavily focused on Literacy, Numeracy and Pastoral/PDMU activities and staff socially distanced breaks to allow for socialisation in the week. Our Mindfulness program has been running for several years and has been supplemented this year with a program called Relaxed Kids. Here the children are taught the skills of resilience, dealing with change and meditation. This has been very useful for some children who have found the return to school, after Home Learning, challenging. P6 and P7 share a buddy system with P1 and P2 as a way of helping the younger children adapt to the structure of school life. In turn this also helps the older children by teaching them responsibility, how to lead by example and the practical application of empathy.
Creativity during the time of Covid 19
When we changed to Home Learning back in March we wanted to ensure that we all still felt part of a whole school community rather than isolated learning. To this end we maintained a weekly assembly which went digital each Monday morning. These assemblies became the highlight of our Home Learning experience and even became a must watch in houses in France and Dublin. The children were encouraged to send in information, pictures, movie clips of their Home Learning experiences and we even managed a virtual Walk to School during Walk to School Week. Each staff member led at least one assembly during this time. Our teaching staff kept daily contact with their class through email and were able to assist the children with any problematic work in their work packs. Upon return to school we have had to stagger the children coming to and leaving school. Each morning either the Principal or Vice Principal greets families at the gate. The teachers and Classroom Assistants are in class to greet the children and settle them into the routines of “Hand, Face and Space”. We want to ensure that this warm welcome puts both the children and their families at ease during these challenging times. We have had to be inventive with our buddy system by giving the children opportunities to come together in a socially distanced environment. Digital technology has assisted with this and the use of smaller groups getting time to meet together. All staff and parents have been upskilled in the use of technology and from September supplemented Home Learning has taken place through Google Classroom. Despite the restrictions which we all now live under, we continue to put the wellbeing of our whole school community at the forefront of our work and continue to support our charities through the use of technology. We have already taken part in Anti Bullying activities such as Odd Sock Day to celebrate the diversity and creativity of all and produced a virtual Christmas Carol Service involving every child in the school.