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Ballyhaunis CS puts best foot forward

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DELIGHTED TO BE BACKPrincipal David McDonagh.

Ballyhaunis

Mike Finnerty

THE first four weeks back at Ballyhaunis Community School has been ‘a fabulous month of teaching and learning’ while ‘nothing has arisen’ in terms of cases of Covid-19.
That’s the message from school principal, David McDonagh, who has been delighted with the way that both teachers and students ‘have put their shoulders to the wheel’ despite the ‘barriers to communication’ presented by the need to wear face coverings and other public health guidelines to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus.
There are 650 students attending the East Mayo school, with more than 50 teachers working there, and Mr McDonagh couldn’t be happier with the way everyone has adapted so far.
“There’s no doubt that the atmosphere has changed around the school,” the 44 year-old Ballindine native told The Mayo News. “People are a little more cautious and a little more worried. But as the weeks go by, a sort of normal atmosphere is starting to return.
“It’s obviously hard with everyone wearing face coverings, constantly sanitising and adhering to social distancing all the time, but it’s still ‘more normal’ than it was a few weeks ago.
“The overwhelming sense I’ve got from the students is that they’re delighted to be back.
“At this stage I’ve spoken to every single one of them, and there’s no doubt that they found it difficult being away from school. It’s a huge benefit to them to be able to have face-to-face learning, and to be able to ask a question if there’s something they don’t understand.
“There’s no doubt that teachers and pupils were thrown in at the deep end with blended learning earlier in the year, but our IT potential has improved significantly in the last six months,” he continued.
“The spectre of another potential lockdown is hanging over everyone at the moment, but we have upskilled our students, especially our First Years, and we have worked with the teachers to help them be ready and prepared for distance learning if that happens.
“Just this week every teacher in the school was given a device, that’s an investment of €30,000. Teacher learning has moved on over the years, and lockdown and everything that goes with it has accelerated the process.”

Refurbishment
David McDonagh became principal of Ballyhaunis Community School eight years ago, and a €10 million refurbishment means that students and teachers now spend their days in a state-of-the-art building with sports facilities to match.
As a result, Covid-19 restrictions haven’t impacted on the school’s Physical Education curriculum in the way it has in some other schools around the country.
“Our PE department has been fortunate in that they have been able to retain their gym,” explained Mr McDonagh, who is a former Davitts and Mayo Gaelic footballer.
“I know in a lot of schools, the gym has had to be taken over to be used as a classroom.
“We’ve actually taken over a fitness studio in the school for a classroom.
“With the good weather, most PE classes have been held outside where we have three hard court areas, an astro-turf, a football pitch and a soccer pitch.
“So far it’s worked very well, but it will be more of a challenge when the weather changes.”
Most aspects of trying to live and work alongside the virus are likely to be ‘more of a challenge’ in the winter months ahead, and the Ballyhaunis CS principal admits that one of his biggest concerns is ‘the uncertainty for exam year students’.
“Whether we like it or not, there’s an uncertainty for those students,” he said. “We’re all driving on but the spectre of another lockdown hangs over everyone.”
Overall though, David McDonagh takes great heart from the first month back since schools re-opened and is sounding a positive and optimistic note for parents and students everywhere.
“I understand people’s concerns but there are very clear public health and HSE guidelines, and from talking to colleagues that schools are probably one of the safest places people could be at the moment,” he said.
“So parents should be re-assured, and I’d encourage them to make sure that kids follow the guidelines outside school. If that happens, the schools will stay open.”