As we approach the anniversary of the first case of Covid in Northern Ireland few could ever have predicted, twelve months ago, how a virus originating from the far side of the world would impact our school community.
With a heavy heart I closed the gates of Saint John’s Primary School on 19th March 2020 and wondered how our Catholic school community would transition to remote teaching and learning yet continue our mission to ‘Learn Together and Grow Together’ rooted in the gospel values of social justice, faith, hope and love.
I soon realised that our school staff would continue to act ‘for the good of all and each individual` (Saint John Paul II on Social Concern) by working in meaningful, respectful collaboration with each other, our families, community based organisations and our school chaplaincy.
Throughout the pandemic, our entire staff have embraced this huge paradigm shift by adapting to remote teaching, creating learning packs, supporting pastoral care through telephone check-ins, socially distanced pastoral visits and celebration of remote learning on social media. Balancing remote provision for four hundred children and on site provision for over one hundred vulnerable and/or key workers’ children has had its challenges. However, as a staff we do this with generosity of spirit and a vocational commitment to the Common Good.
Our parents, grandparents and carers continue to work in partnership with us as they too skilfully balance the fine line of parenting, working from home, caring for sick relations, grieving the loss of loved ones, dealing with ever changing work circumstances, with teaching and embracing new technology. Their dedication and commitment to the children’s learning, wellbeing and more importantly love are reflected daily in the photographs and communications we receive with tremendous joy, respect and admiration.
As much as we have tried our best to ensure equitable access to learning, through loan of school ICT devices, this pandemic continues to shine a light on a digital divide that remains a huge social justice issue and one which requires major intervention if education is to be a right for every child not a privilege. Though technology will never replace face to face interaction, it certainly enables us to sustain academic, pastoral and spiritual growth and enhances our community by keeping us virtually together whilst we remain physically apart.
As Principal I have felt truly humbled by the authentic respect for humanity I have witnessed in our school community throughout this past year. I believe that we have all gained a deeper understanding of each individual’s unique, personal circumstances. Therefore, as a school, whilst we continue to hold high standards for attendance and engagement in learning tasks, the delivery of a compassionate education focused on the dignity of every member of our school community remains our priority. This is definitely strengthened by collaborations with local organisations and access they provide to support mechanisms for our children and their families. This solidarity and interdependence has allowed us to become an outwards facing school committed to a shared vision and mission to support and respect the humanity of all members of our community in moments of fragility and strength. This is a gift we will we nurture as we continue our journey to ‘Learn Together and Grow Together’.
As a Catholic school of faith, we understand, more than ever, that our school must remain in community with Christ and each other, to grow in resilience and face the challenges ahead. Our school staff and chaplains have steadfastly ensured that we continue our daily life of prayer, witness to Gospel values and sacramental preparation. It is this faith and the unconditional love, we have for our children, that will keep us resilient and give us hope for better days ahead.