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Davy Fitz to help Westport school

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COMMITTEE Knockrooskey NS is hosting Mayo’s Fittest Superstars, which is based on Ireland’s Fittest Families and will take place on the October Bank Holiday weekend. Pictured at the event launch with the creator of Fittest Superstars Davy Fitzgerald (front, fourth from left), are the Mayo’s Fittest Superstars Committee and the Parents Association of Knockrooskey NS. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Unique fundraiser aims to help school provide multi-sensory play facilities

Edwin McGreal

Friday morning and Knockrooskey NS is a hive of activity. The national school on the R330 between Westport and Killawalla looks like a small, rural school from the road but head inside and you can see how much it has expanded over the years.
In fact it has had five extensions since the turn of the millennium, and plans are advancing for a sixth.
The extensions have been necessary due to burgeoning numbers in the school. It went from 94 pupils and four teachers in 2004 to its current numbers of 204 and a total of 16 teachers and ten special needs assistants.
Kieran Geraghty has been school principal since 2004 and one of only four since the school opened at its current location in 1963. The late Owen Hughes (who was also a county councillor) was there 1974.
Then another man who would also make his name in politics took over at the helm. His term was short-lived – Enda Kenny was elected to the Dáil at the end of 1975 following a by-election caused by the death of his father, Henry.
Merci Kilcoyne replaced him, serving until 2004 when Kieran Geraghty, who was a pupil of the school in Enda Kenny’s time, took the reins.
The school has expanded considerably on his watch but he does not look to praise his own input.
“The single biggest thing we have done that has expanded our numbers is that we brought school opening times forward and school starts at 8.50am. It means parents can drop their kids here anytime after 8.30am and be at their desks for work in Castlebar or Westport for 9am,” Mr Geraghty told The Mayo News.
He is full of his praise too for the work of what he describes as a ‘very brave’ board of management, headed up by chairperson Aoife Mannion, in delivering the five extensions in what are called devolved schemes, where the Department give a board a budget and the board is then responsible for its delivery.  
Part of the expansion of the school too came from the opening of its autism unit, which sees children from all over the county and even from across the Galway border come to Knockrooskey.
The unit itself is at capacity with 24 children, while ten more children with autism have been successfully integrated into mainstream classrooms.
It’s obvious from our viewing that it is not just the children with autism who benefit from the unit but kids in mainstream too, several of whom come to the unit to partner autistic kids to the playground for break time in the school’s ‘buddy’ system.
You cannot put a price on the  empathy that kids develop from sharing the school with children with special needs, Kieran Geraghty points out.

Need to expand
All that expansion came at something of a cost, however. The school’s playing pitch had to go in order to provide a car park/entry-and-exit point for parents in the morning, taking all the school traffic off the main road.
The car park transforms into a playground during school hours but, obviously, a tarmac one rather than grass. It has been a resounding success from a safety point of view, Kieran Geraghty says, but the playground space that remains after all the extensions could certainly do with a bit more breathing space.
With that in mind, the school has plans for developing playing facilities, including the provision of a pitch, together with multi-sensory equipment for the school’s playground, all of which will be used by both children in the unit and mainstream children, in line with the philosophy of the school.
And to make these plans a reality, the school is hosting a unique fundraiser, Mayo’s Fittest Superstars.
It’s the brainchild of hurling legend Davy Fitzgerald who has been rolling it out as a franchise fundraiser all over the country. He was in Knockrooskey last Wednesday to officially launch the local efforts.
The event itself will take place on Sunday, October 27 next in the Dome Suite in Westport’s Castlecourt Hotel, where 12 teams will battle it out in front of a live audience in a bid to be crowned Mayo’s Fittest Superstars.
It is an offshoot of Ireland’s Fittest Family, also created by Fitzgerald, with popular events such as ‘hang tough’ to take place in the Castlecourt.
Tickets for the event are on sale now, and the main sponsor is Hoban’s Centra, Westport.
A commemorative booklet is also being produced. Kieran Geraghty is keen to praise the ‘very energetic and vibrant’ committee and all who have backed the project so far. “We are overwhelmed by the support and goodwill of the local community and our sponsors,” he said.

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For more information, see the Mayo Fittest Superstars Facebook page.