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Preparing children for life in the real world

Judy Murphy

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Shane O’Connell, principal of Galway’s first Steiner National School: “Children learn for themselves – the teacher’s role is to guide them,” he says. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Lifestyle –  Judy Murphy meets Shane O’Connell, principal of Galway’s first Steiner National School which will open this September

Given Galway’s City’s reputation for arts and culture, it’s amazing that it has taken until now for the child-centred Steiner system of education to establish a foothold here.

Finally it has, and the principal of Galway’s first Steiner National School, which will open this September in Knocknacarra, is Tipperary-born Shane O’Connell.

The Steiner method of teaching, which places a huge value on arts, nature and imagination, was developed in Austria nearly 100 years ago by academic and mystic Rudolf Steiner. It caters for children’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs as well as their academic requirements. Its ethos is co-educational and non-religious.

“It’s about fostering the child’s imagination,” says Shane who describes it as “experiential learning” rather than learning by rote.

The Steiner emphasis on hands-on education, and learning in the outdoors tallies with Shane’s approach, which he has honed by teaching in national schools in West Cork, including in Leap where he was vice-principal and in the International School of Havana, Cuba. He previously worked in Kenya as a volunteer after graduating from college.

Shane had initially qualified as an actuary, which set him up for a career in finance, assessing and managing risk. Instead, he opted to go to Kenya with the Volunteer Missionary Movement where he worked with a Catholic diocese in a region about the size of Ireland, helping to secure funds for schools which were passing from church to state ownership.

That experience led him to return to college and train as a primary teacher. Despite the fact that it’s a far less lucrative career financially than actuarial work, it was the right decision as teaching is his passion.  It’s a bit of a family passion – three of his four sisters are primary teachers, he says with a laugh.

“Steiner was something I was interested in and coming back from Cuba was the perfect time,” he says of his appointment to the Galway position.

He hopes the school will have 15 pupils when it opens, as this would entitle it to two teachers.

Starting off with Junior Infants it will grow by one class a year to have a full complement by the time this year’s intake has reached sixth class.

The school’s current location, on the Western Distributor Road, is temporary, and the plan is to move further out towards Barna, to be closer to woods and to the sea.

In preparation for his role as principal of the Knocknacarra school, Shane has spent time in two Steiner Schools in Co Clare. Raheen Woods in Tuamgraney was set up in the mid 1980s, while Mol an Óige in Ennistymon is 10 years old.

The children in both schools “have overalls and Wellingtons and out they go, whatever the weather” to learn outside.

“Children learn for themselves – the teacher’s role is to guide them,” explains Shane. “Steiner is very much about finding where a child is and letting them develop at their own stage.”

Traditionally, the Irish education system, even at primary level, was based on a child being passive rather than active, with rote learning being a cornerstone. Early reading was another linchpin – children began in Junior Infants at the age of four.

That State approach meant a system like Steiner, where children led the way was regarded with deep suspicion by the Department of Education.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

Connacht Tribune

Offering a lifeline to people affected by cancer

Denise McNamara

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Lifestyle – The Daffodil Centre at UHG which is celebrating its 10th anniversary has given practical and moral support to thousands of cancer patients and their family members since the Irish Cancer Society set it up as a pilot project. DENISE MCNAMARA hears one man’s story of its role in his recovery.

When Alan Rushe began to feel cramps in his stomach, he did not hesitate in attending his local doctor.

His GP asked if he had ever suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). As he had been diagnosed with the condition when he was younger, he was prescribed tablets for that and told to see how they worked.

Six days later, Alan’s condition hadn’t improved so his GP referred him for a colonoscopy. When the invasive test revealed he had colon cancer he was operated on within ten days. Two months later he was started on six months of chemotherapy, getting treatment once every fortnight.

When he was coming to the end of the treatment, Alan found himself in a bind.

He wanted reassurance about what to expect as the chemicals left his body but the doctors and nurses in the oncology ward were far too busy to give him the time he needed to sit and chat.

“One of the things about having cancer, your whole life becomes obsessed with your problem and how you’re dealing with it,” Alan reflects.

“Suddenly you’re coming to the end of chemo and you find yourself in a very strange place; you are in a vacuum. You might be told things by different doctors and nurses but you haven’t taken it in.

“You can’t just drop back into the ward, yet you want to talk to people who know all there is to know about your type of cancer.”

He was advised to go to the Daffodil Centre in University Hospital Galway (UHG), which is run by the Irish Cancer Society to seek further information.

There he found oncology nurse Fionnuala Creighton who manages the Galway Daffodil Centre. She sat down with Alan and gave him the time to answer the myriad of questions that were swirling around his mind.

“She gave me all this information about what to expect when chemo is leaving the body, how it would affect me. She gave me information leaflets and told me about services that are available, such as exercise classes in Cancer Care West,” he explains.

The Daffodil Centre at UHG began as a pilot project for the Irish Cancer Society a decade ago this month.

Aileen McHale, who is now Cancer Information Services Manager with the Irish Cancer Society, was the first nurse to work there.

“We wanted to set up a designated cancer centre in a hospital to provide information to the patient, relatives and general public at the point of diagnosis, treatment and follow-up,” she explains. “I was involved in the setting up and running it and, from the beginning one of my roles was recruiting and training a group of volunteers who would help me in the running of the centre.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Country Living

Seeking trinkets of solace as our season of change arrives

Francis Farragher

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Country Living with Francis Farragher

One of the strange things about looking up opinions on the autumn season is how popular it seems to be with most scribes, and particularly those with a love of nature and the great outdoors.

There are times though that I’m not entirely enchanted with the lure of autumnal charm and particularly so on a grey and wet Tuesday morning when the penny drops that the decision to wear a short-sleeved shirt and no gansey was not such a good one.

With the change in the GAA season, the All-Ireland hurling final is already chalked into the record books while the football decider will also be done and dusted by September 1. Even the Galway Races seem to be slipping into the distant memory section of the brain.

Then, there’s the big return to school that seems to be eating a bit more than usual into the latter days of August while the ads will now be appearing about the night-classes in our educational establishments that could help us to while away the growing hours of darkness.

Even in the local hostelry where the cares of the world can be temporarily parked, ne’er a night passes in the second half of August when there isn’t a moan over a pint of black stuff about how quickly the evenings are ‘closing in’.

Sometimes, I can extract just a little solace from taking a glance at John Keats’ Ode to Autumn and his romantic descripting of the season of transition from Summer to Winter: “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless, With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run.”

Poor old Mr. Keats, one of the great English Romantic poets of the early 1800s, didn’t manage to experience any great multitudes of Autumns, dying at the age of 25 from TB or ‘consumption’, but he was undoubtedly madly in love with our third season of the year.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City  and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway in Days Gone By

Galway In Days Gone By

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1919

Child deserted

A male child was found deserted outside the Galway workhouse gate on Tuesday morning by a contractor who was taking milk to the workhouse hospital.

The child, which was a few weeks’ old, was taken to the workhouse and baptised a Catholic. The police are investigating the matter.

Harvest prospects

The cold and somewhat harsh weather in late June followed by the practically general drought in July has unfavourably affected crops and stock.

Though cereals have on the whole done well, the drought has caused the straw, notably in the case of oats, to be short, and in some parts of the country the grain heads have not filled properly.

Flax, too, though in a fair crop, is likely to be short, and in some parts of the North it is anticipated that it will be difficult to find water for retting purposes.

Potatoes have wanted rain, but the cases of blight reported are less numerous, especially in the North, than last year. As a result of the drought, pastures are becoming bare, and stock accordingly in some parts of the country are falling off in condition.

Farmers organise

A meeting of farmers took place in Portumna on Friday to discuss a proposal to form a local branch of the Co. Galway Association of the Irish Farmers’ Union.

Mr. B. Geoghegan, the county organiser in addressing the meeting, explained the aims of the association and pointed out the great possibilities of co-operation among farmers.

All those present were completely in favour of the proposal and formed a branch on the spot, the members of which are very keen to induce every farmer in the district to join.

Another meeting will shortly be held for the purpose of selecting a chairman and secretary.

A month for begging

For begging on the footpath leading to the railway station, Patrick Reilly, of no fixed residence, was ordered to be imprisoned for a month when charged at Galway Petty Sessions on Monday.

Sergeant Duffy, who had summoned him, said he was obstructing people going to the railway station. He was an old offender.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City  and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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