St Mary’s Primary School in Mullaghabawn may appear to be a small rural school with limited international connections — but don’t be fooled — this is a school with world aspirations.
Nestled under the shadows of Slieve Gullion, the school, which is home to less than 300 pupils, is going global by working with schools across Europe — as well as in China.
They recently scooped €79,725 under the Erasmus+ scheme, and through it, are hoping to help pupils develop as global citizens.
The County Armagh school will work with five countries across Europe — Finland, Greece, Spain, Ireland and Italy, on two complementing projects. They aim to promote IT skills, environmental awareness, a second language and even a happier work environment.
The first project, entitled Dissolving European Boundaries, will see the school work and engage with countries across Europe using an online platform in which they will focus on environmental matters as well as culture and language — ultimately working towards achieving ‘Green Flag status’. Through it, the pupils have been designing logos, using their iPads for digital storytelling and creating the ultimate eco warrior mascots. This project will cumulate with the development of a virtual learning platform, which will provide a safe environment for both staff and pupils.
In addition to this, the school also received funding to allow teachers to visit other educational settings across Europe and attend international training courses. The school hopes to learn best practice and explore educational systems, while also improving ICT skills and foreign language ability. So far the teachers have met in Mullaghbawn, The Basque Country, and most recently, in Finland.
Ciara Crawley said, “Through the project we hope to open our pupils’ minds so that they are not afraid to travel in later life, while also helping them acquire a second language.”
For Ciara, the benefits of the programme are far-reaching.
She said: “We firmly believe that a good project impacts on not only the school involved, but also the wider community, to which each school belongs. Here at St Mary’s we’ve developed a real community spirit — working with parents and grandparents and others within the local area. It’s really important for us to have their support.”
The school is also looking further east for the year ahead — with plans afoot to partner with a school in China.
“Last October we were lucky enough to take part in an international study visit to China. We visited many schools and brought back a lot of knowledge on their educational system. We enjoyed the experience so much that we’ve decided to work with one school out there which is home to 2,000 pupils — it’s sure to be an eye-opener!”
The project is made up of of ten schools in Northern Ireland who are forming links in China through the British Council’s Connecting Classroom’s programme.
“This is great for us as a school as we’re used to working with schools outside of Northern Ireland but not with ones in our own backyard — it’s wonderful to have a chance to collaborate like this.
“Partnering with China is also great for the local community — it’s sure to be a wonderful new challenge.”
Speaking about the schools global reach, Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director of British Council Northern Ireland said: “Our international partnerships are at the heart of everything we do and initiatives such as these enable young people to understand issues of worldwide importance, gain a sense of social responsibility and develop the skills they need to succeed in a global economy.”
Stewart also told of the significance of international programmes in schools. He said that it is vital for actively raising the awareness among teachers and students about the importance of, not only, international but also local school collaboration and cross-community work.