Limerick principal thinks it would be ‘foolish’ at this stage to reopen schools

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

Email:

aine.fitzgerald@limerickleader.ie

Limerick principal thinks it would be ‘foolish’ at this stage to reopen schools

AGAINST the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, people in Ireland and the wider world are witnessing large-scale, national efforts to utilise technology in support of enabling society to maintain some sense of normality and routine to their daily lives.

For many, the very concept of normality and routine seem out of reach but for the students, parents and teachers in Limerick Educate Together Secondary School, normality and routine does exist, that is at least, through the lens of remote learning, teaching and assessment. 

Limerick Educate Together Secondary School is Limerick’s newest second-level school. Last week the Leader revealed the news that council planners had given the green light for the construction of the massive, multi-storey, state-of-the-art school which will be built in the shadow of Northern Trust in Castletroy. 

Prior to the Easter holidays, students and teachers had engaged in three successful weeks of remote learning, teaching and assessment. And following their return to studies it has been no different.

 “These are unprecedented times and with it comes enormous challenges for families on a day to day basis and it is likely that the public health restrictions will continue for some time to come,” said Eoin Shinners, principal.

“In the week leading up to school closures, our staff met, formulated and agreed a contingency plan for remote learning in the event of such closures. We communicated this to parents in advance of the closures and really from thereafter, we hit the ground running. The learning experience has been very positive with an student online engagement averaging 84% prior to the Easter break,”  Mr Shinners added. 

All students in Limerick ETSS have iPads and teachers are equipped with the best that Apple technology has to offer. Students don’t have textbooks. Teachers create their subject content which is tailored to meet the needs of all students. The school integrates Apple with all things Google. Interestingly, when speaking about the success of their remote learning, Mr Shinners doesn’t reference technology in great detail but moreover, highlights teachers’ sense of professionalism as crucial to remote process.

“Technology lies at the heart of learning and teaching in our school. But it’s merely one of the many tools we use. Technology is an enabler. But it’s not the learning and it’s not the teaching. In the absence of textbooks, coupled with the vibrant, dynamic and flexible learning spaces in Limerick ETSS, our teachers are pushing the traditional barriers of teaching every day,” Mr Shinners explained. 

Despite the school closures, students are following a reduced version of their timetable. “With all the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 we felt it was really important to help students and their families maintain some sense of normality and routine to their day. So our timetable is running.”

 Maria Harper, chair of the board of Management and parent of Charley who is in first year commended the teachers for going above and beyond to ensure that students are having a positive experience from the remote learning.

“It has been seamless from day one. The timetable is running and teachers are on (online). My daughter gets up for school like any other school day. While there’s no replacing the personal interaction that your traditional classroom brings, this is as close as it gets,” explained Ms Harper.

“It’s incredible to see my daughter and her peers all online and engaged together via Google Classroom and Google Hangouts. My worry was that students might have to navigate through a silo of work but this isn’t the case because the teachers are online. They vary the types of work set and they engage with students on the chat feeds, via email and best of all, classes are delivered via live streams using Google Hangouts. They even do whole school assemblies online and the principal provides pre-recorded updates to parents.” 

Mr Shinners does not expect second-level schools to reopen this side of June.

Speaking about the likelihood of continued school closures he stated: “I think it would be foolish at this stage to reopen schools and risk undoing all that we have done to support our frontline services.  Teachers across Limerick and the country are doing incredible things to ensure that learning continues. Parents have been incredible in making the adjustment to homeschool life while at the same time trying to balance it all with family life, siblings and much more.”