As Principal of Presentation College I have been invited by your editor to write an article about life in the school. This is a timely invitation in that our “Open Night” is fast approaching. Indications are that students and parents have made their decision early about which Secondary School to attend during the last year in Primary education. “Open Night” helps to reaffirm that decision.

Research shows that the two main factors which parents consider in deciding which school to send their children are Good Discipline and Good Results. Both are interdependent – “You can’t have one without the other” as the song goes. If the school is effectively managed and organised, students will know where they must be at any given time; they and their teachers will know what is expected of them and both groups will then make maximum use of the learning time that is available. In such an atmosphere students will be challenged to achieve their personal best-and will know that to do, so they must supplement school leaming with daily homework.

Achievement in public examination is a fair indicator of how successful a school’s disciplinary code is. Good results imply good order and good discipline in a school. Last summer 122 students from Presentation College sat the full Leaving Certificate examination. Seventy-one of last year’s group are now attending a University, Regional Technical College or other Third Level institution. One, being the eighteenth highest entry qualifier to Trinity College, Dublin, was awarded an Exhibition Scholarship.

Because we provide an orderly and secure environment each student has the opportunity to achieve his/her full potential. A survey conducted across ten countries by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement found that “the availability of reading resources in schools is one of the factors most strongly associated with effective schools. In Ireland more effective schools tend to have more books in libraries than less effective schools”. Our library has about 3,000 books in stock and has seating accommodation for seventy students. The librarian’s timetable ensures that all students have easy access to the books and that the list is regularly updated.

Participation in extra-curricular activities encourages a sense of community and pride in the school and broadens the relationship between our teachers and our pupils. Representing one’s school in competition is a prized ambition for many students while the bus-load of supporters contributes to the unity of purpose on such occasions. Hurling, Basketball and Soccer are among the preferred games for boys, while girls participate in Camogie, Basketball and Soccer.

With the co-operation of the Monivea Rugby Club we have rugby coaching on a weekly basis. We competed very successfully this year in Debating, Public Speaking, Cookery and Quiz competitions. The annual School Tour is another highlight, while our annual Musical draws a wide following from all comers of the catchment area. Through the Student Representative Council students are encouraged to contribute to the welfare of the school community, while the Leaving Certificate Committee coped admirably with the responsibility of running the Graduation ceremony.

We have an active Parents” Council which over the years have contributed much to the school. This year the Council organised a Careers Information Evening, helped with the Musical and has a Drug Awareness Programme in place for the remainder of the year. Later the Council will organise the Mock Interviews for the Leaving Certificate and Post-Leaving Certificate students.

In the last few years we have introduced a number of innovations in the school:

Transition Year.

Technology, Building Construction and Woodwork.

NCVA Level II Awards for Post-Leaving Certificate students – These awards qualify for Regional Technical College entry and job placement is virtually guaranteed afterwards.

Investment in a new computer system.

To continue the development which has occurred in the Primary Schools, a Resource Teacher has been appointed to cater for the needs of the weaker student.

Making the school wheelchair friendly.

Extending the school.

Developing our canteen facilities.

Supervised study throughout the school day to cater for teacher absences for whatever reason.

Needless to say this account of Presentation College cannot do full justice to the school. While we have a spacious building and grounds including the Sports’ Centre, the true atmosphere of the school can only be felt by witnessing at first hand the interaction between all the members – students, teachers, parents and management – who constitute the school community. We believe our school to be a Christian caring place which gives each student the opportunity to develop all his/her gifts to the full and to become a responsible member of society.

Feature Photo: New Presentation College, Ballygurrane, Athenry 2020

When Shakespeare described the schoolboy as “creeping like a snail unwillingly to school” little did he realise that the 20th Century pupil would for the most part look forward to the experience. Attitudes to education have changed considerably in the past few decades with the emphasis now on encouraging achievement rather than punishing non-achievement. The teacher of today is a more compassionate person and so there is a much healthier and relaxed atmosphere in the classroom.

The strap or cane is no longer part of the teaching equipment.

From the day a child is born he is struggling to gain his independence. He takes his first step, he manages to ride a tricycle, he goes to primary school, he gets on the local team, he goes to secondary and so on. As he broadens his horizons he becomes less dependent on his parents. Each stage brings its thrills and spills for both the parent and offspring. After all, each of us can remember our first day at school, or, as parents, we can recall the day each family member started. There were ups and downs for us in both roles.

Leaving primary school signals the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence for young people. It is both an exciting and difficult time. Making new friends, meeting new teachers, studying new subjects, playing a greater variety of games is the essence of excitement. In our school, first years take to playing hide-and-seek on the corridors an activity that has to be stopped firmly but with understanding. When at home the child is bubbling with enthusiasm about school to such an extent that parents might wonder to themselves “Is this what we have to put up with for the next five years?”

However, young people do have their problems at this stage. On a purely functional level the geography of the new school must be learned. Generally the building is much bigger and it is not unusual to find the first year student losing his way. “I have English now Miss, but I don’t know where the classroom is”. A supportive attitude from the teacher is vital at times like this.

Moving from a one class, one teacher situation, to a different teacher for every subject is also a new experience. Students have been used to a particular teaching method and must now adapt to a variety of styles and personalities. The timetable appears very complex. As many as nine different subjects can be studied during the day. In the first few weeks this can be very confusing for the child.

Parents whose children use the school transport system often find that young people become extremely tired. They may have had problems getting up at 8.30 and getting home at 4 p.m. Now they may have to rise as early as 7.00, they have class from 9.15 to 4.00 and may get home as late as 5.30 p.m. After dinner lessons must be seen to, not to mention essential T.V. viewing like “Home and Away”!! Not surprising, therefore, that tiredness can be a problem-—one which seems to last until the student becomes accustomed to the routine of the day.

On a social level, students who were the seniors in primary school become the juniors in post-primary. The security of the peer group in primary gives way to the insecurity of establishing oneself among new friends in second level. A common request from first years in the early days is “Can I be in the same class as my friend?” However, by Christmas new friendships have been established and the pals in primary are no longer as important.

What can we, as parents and teachers, do to alleviate these problems? By September new students and their parents should have visited the second level school at least twice, and should have seen if not met the teachers. A meeting between the Principal and the parents should be arranged especially if the child has particular difficulties. At another level, close contact will have been maintained between the student’s former school and the new school. At the start of the academic year therefore, the post-primary school should have built up a profile of each new pupil. By the end of October an opportunity for parents to meet teachers by way of a parent-teacher meeting is highly desirable. Progress can then be reviewed and any corrective action needed can be agreed.

In short, what young people need most at this time of transition is our presence – to listen to their difficulties, to share their concerns and to offer them encouragement and support where we can.