MAKING THE MOST OF NOW With one of the smallest pupil populations in the county, Bunnacurry NS on Achill Island is still faced with plenty of challenges this year.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are the biggest school in the country or the smallest school in the country it is the challenge which is facing all of us – keeping the virus out of the school.”
That is the opinion of Damien Kilbane, the Principal of Bunnacurry National School on Achill Island who, despite having one of the lowest enrollment numbers in the county, still has to abide by all the Covid guidelines to keep his staff and pupils safe.
The children are all in the one pod and bubble but they still have to respect social distancing guidelines, they cannot share equipment and they still have to be aware of how they interact with each other.
“Once everyone enters the premises, they sanitise their hands and staff put on a new face mask. Children go to their individual desks when in the past they may have been inclined to congregate together and chat but they are socially distanced now. There are regular breaks during the day to clean their hands and wash their hands before they eat.
“If they cough and sneeze the automatic reaction is for them to get out of their seat to santitise their hands, it’s second nature. While a child might forget to do it, the other children are quick to say ‘come on, you need to do your hands’,” he explained.
Since the schools reopened under the Covid restrictions in September, Mr Kilbane said everyone in the school community has bought into the guidelines and have changed their behaviour to ensure everyone remains safe.
“From the beginning everyone bought in and the fact we are an island community and that a large percentage are over 65, we as a community know we have to look after the older people and to do that we all have to take collective responsibility. It starts right down from four year-olds in Junior Infants and continues right the way through,” he said.
Changes have had to be made in teaching practices and even the teaching of music and song had to looked at to ensure it was done in line with the guidelines from the department.
In October, the island community suffered an outbreak of Covid-19 cases for the first time with up to 60 cases estimated. Mr Kilbane said this outbreak made them ‘pause for a minute’ to look at measures they have taken and if they had to be more cautious in keeping the virus out of the school.
Lack of interaction with other schools
Thankfully the school has not been affected by the virus but Mr Kilbane says that last couple of months have been a challenge, particularly for the children in small schools who do not have the same social interaction with other schools
“When you have small numbers in the school they very much rely on outside school activities and extra curricular activities for social interactions and getting to know their peers across the parish. The fact that most of that has stopped is very hard and the children in my school and the other schools in the parish are pretty much just seeing the children in their class from one end of the week to the next. That is very difficult.
“Before this we would often pair up with other schools for different events or there would be a concert in Achill Sound Hall and there would be opportunities for the schools to come together collectively. That is not happening which is a shame because the schools in Achill have always had a strong network amongst themselves going back decades. Once the children move onto post-primary they would genuinely know nearly all the other children going to their year across the parish. That is going to be lacking going forward.”
The decision by the Department of Education to delay the opening of schools until January 11 was welcomed by Mr Kilbane who described it as ‘prudent’. However he is hopeful that the schools reopen on the date and said it was up to everyone in the community to ensure that happens.
“As a collective we need to limit our interactions and anyone who has a connection with the school, be it a parent or pupil, we need to cognisant of our movement so when the schools reopen, they wait open.”