Celebrations underway

Celebrations underway

2 October 2013

CASTLEWELLAN Primary School is celebrating 80 years at the heart of community life. A tree was planted in the Church Street grounds to mark the occasion on Thursday, while its pupils enjoyed cutting a celebratory cake and party games.

A church service of thanksgiving open to all will also be held at the end of October in the adjoining Church of Ireland church.

Principal Niall McClean said the school had been working on an exhibition of work to tie in with the anniversary on the theme of times present and past, with its older pupils also learning about the history of Castlewellan and the school.

Discussing what he felt were the strengths of the school, which has around 70 pupils, Mr. McClean said: “It is a school for the community. Communities evolve but I believe we will always be part of the local community.

“Smaller schools are really under the Department’s notice at the moment and it has been great to see St. Patrick’s Primary School in Burrenreagh recently securing their future.

“I take my hat off to James Hunt and the parental body for what is a victory.”

Mr. McClean said there was a “certain ethos” that identified primary schools within a small rural area.

“There are no nameless faces,” he said. “The standard of contact is always very individually based.

“Nameless faces — that for me is no education. I hope that the Department will be able to see small schools have a vital role to play. There is not one model of school that fits all.”

Mr. McClean, who recently secured ipads for each of the children, said opening up the world of technology to his students was particularly important.

“There has also been a big drive over the last nine years with reading in particular, and this year we are taking part in a new programme called Thinking Schools,” he said. “We are the first primary school in the South Eastern Board to do this, which is really about developing a higher tier of thinking, developing problem solving skills.”

Mr. McClean, who has been an enthusiastic ambassador for the school over the past nine years, added that he was positive about the school’s future.

“I hope we will be here for the next 80 years,” he said.

Also making a visit on Thursday, was former principal Mrs. Heather McClelland, who retired in 2005 after 40 years of service.

She said she was delighted to be part of Castlewellan Primary School celebrations.

“It was such a part of my

life as well,” she said. “I came here in 1965 and the biggest change physically would have been the extension to the school [in 2005].

“Back when I started there were outside toilets, for the staff as well. The Key Stage One classroom was also only half the size it is now.”

Mrs. McClelland said staff at the school had always been focused on helping the children, and not just academically.

“It is a very close knit, small community and the school has a Christian ethos,” she said.

“Parents know that the staff here have the best interests of the children at heart.”

Among the pupils enjoying the party on Thursday were Daniel Kirwan (P6) and Luka Hallissey (P7).

Daniel attends the school’s Moderate Learning Difficulties Unit after transferring from Knockevin School three years ago. He admits he wasn’t fussed on the move initially but now loves the school.

“I thought I would be scared at first,” he said. “Now I like it, I’m happy. It’s nice being just five minutes away from the school.”

Of his favourite subjects he said: “I love the comprehension box, they are all different colours inside, you read them all, turn them over and answer all the questions.

“I love reading. I like the scary stuff, like the daleks, I’ve been watching Doctor Who over the past few months.”

Daniel said he was now most looking forward to tucking into the school birthday cake. He said he had no idea the school was so old but seemed unfazed.

“It was a surprise when I heard it was 80 years old,” he said. “But I know somebody who is older. My granny is older.”

Luka, who lives in the Mournes near Bryansford said he hoped to go to Down High School next year, but was worried about “big schools where nobody knows your name”.

He said he loved all the “good technology” in the school and playing with his friends at breaktime.

“My favourite subject is probably maths,” he said. “I didn’t think the school was 80 years old. I thought the school looked very young.”