Buncrana, Co. Donegal
Scoil Íosagáin creates connections between mainstream and special needs students to encourage empathy and build a strong sense of community within the school. The school emphasizes both emotional literacy and academic achievement, and it provides many opportunities for children to take leadership in the community, from making important decisions as part of the student council to acting as Classroom Assistants. This is all captured in the saying, “We’re in it together: Ag Sugradh le Cheile, ag Obair le Cheile agus ag Fas le Cheile” (play together, work together and grow together). http://scoiliosagain.ie/
A primary school of over 700 students in County Donegal, Scoil Íoságin has both mainstream classes and special classes for students with autism and students with learning disabilities. Students from all the classes are integrated in as much of the school experience possible, including a wide variety of extracurricular activities.
The Biggest Idea
Building and maintaining an inclusive community is an important piece of Scoil Íoságin’s culture. This centers on the principle that all children, regardless of physical or intellectual ability should be able to learn and develop together. Programmes ranging from the student council to the Buddy system between pupils in mainstream and special classes all contribute to this.
Life at Little Angels
One recent project of Scoil Íoságin’s student council was to fundraise for ‘The Free Wee library,’ a program that would establish small libraries around the school were students could participate in book exchanges. In this project we see some of the elements that are essential to the school as a whole: student leadership, intellectual opportunity and the cultivation of a tight community among students.
This community is developed in the after-school art club, which promotes self-expression through painting and gives students from the mainstream and special needs classes an opportunity to work on group pieces together, and in the drama group, “Páistí le chéile,” which includes pupils of all abilities, including those with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Students also take initiative in fostering this community when they participate in the Buddy system, in which students from mainstream classes pair with students in the special classes, or when they become Classroom Assistants, who support pupils in the junior classes and special classes.
Students’ learning and development are also supported by the Rainbows peer-support programme, which assists children experiencing a significant loss in their lives such as death, separation or divorce within their family, as well as the Neuro-Developmental Exercise Programme, which helps students with various problems which affect the way they learn. A Roots of Empathy programme has also been in place for several years and music therapy is available for children. These are just a few of the ways that Scoil Íoságin’s makes an effort to include every student.
More broadly, the school’s “reverse integration” programme encourages empathy by having children in mainstream classes join their peers in special classes for lessons or other activities. In the classroom, as well as on the sports team, in the school garden and in many other everyday moments, the students of Scoil Íoságin are creating a community where they can grow.
Principal Sinead McLaughlin has been the longtime leader of Scoil Íoságin’s large staff. Her relationship with the pupils is a fundamental motivation for her, and she is familiar with the families in the community. She has pushed for inclusion and integration of all students, and she has a strong sense of pride for the school, its sense of community and its place in the surrounding community.