The Schools of Sanctuary programme is an award-winning scheme developed in the Urban Villages areas of Belfast and Derry with support from the NI Executive’s Urban Villages Initiative, the Belfast City of Sanctuary group, and the Intercultural Education Service of the Education Authority.
A School of Sanctuary is a school committed to being a safe and welcoming place for all, especially those seeking sanctuary. This could be those whose lives were in danger in their own country, who have troubles at home or are just looking for a space of safety. It has never been so apt in the current pandemic crisis of Covid19.
Friday’s event, held in the Francis Street school, saw politicians, clergy and Education Authority and local community group representatives, as well as St. Eugene’s PS teaching staff, governors and pupils in attendance as the Mayor handed over the award to Ms. Teresa Duggan.
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St Eugene’s started their journey towards achieving this award in October 2019 under the leadership of the newly appointed Principal.
Delighted and proud to receive the award, the Principal said: “With some of the current St Eugene’s pupils coming from Poland, China and Rwanda it was important that the whole school community come together in celebrating such diversity within each class. The children learned about different cultural backgrounds, languages and shared their experiences regarding traditions and customs and how these would be celebrated across the world.
“The programme also ensures better Child Protection and Safeguarding procedures throughout our school plus improved facilities for all children in St Eugene’s PS.”
Citing the ongoing work at the school in helping ensure improved safety, Ms. Duggan continued: “This is now being realised with a new toilet refurbishment in the junior site plus new front of house provision to ensure better safety for the younger children who are beginning school. Some of the other activities built into the curriculum this year included St Eugene’s school choir linking up with local vocal groups in the community and with the DEED Choir – (Derry Engaging and Empowering Dementia) celebrating the power of singing together, both young and old.
“We also had the newly-established Breakfast Club plus extended After Schools provision ensuring more wrap around care. The school also provides the Roots of Empathy programme, Relax Kids and Resilience Skills, ably supported by the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum.”
Overall the School of Sanctuary programme came at a most critical and challenging time for St. Eugene’s when facing Covid19. The work undertaken towards achieving the award clearly demonstrated the strength of the local primary school community in providing a place of sanctuary for the vulnerable children and those of the key workers in the school throughout lockdown.
St. Eugene’s provided a haven for many during these past few months and is living up to its long, distinguished history in continuing to safely serve generations of families educating the local young people in becoming well rounded citizens who will continue to uphold the school’s legacy within the community of Derry city since its beginnings in 1854. Ms. Duggan added: ‘By achieving this School of Sanctuary award St Eugene’s PS and Nursery Unit instils in each child the ability to recognise each other’s uniqueness whilst respecting diversity and ensuring equality for all.”
Mayor Tierney, said he was proud to return to his alma mater and delighted the school had won such a prestigious award. He said: “Congratulations to the new Principal, Ms. Teresa Duggan, and indeed all the staff at St. Eugene’s in achieving ‘School of Sanctuary’ status.
“I have great memories of this school and believe it plays a central role in the local community. The school deserve the recognition for the hard work and dedication put in by the Principal, board of governors, teachers, parents and most importantly, the pupils. I look forward to returning to the school later in my term of office and to get the chance to meet some of the children.”
Local representatives were given a tour of the school and refreshments were served on site with a musical interlude by Helen Cassidy and Aine Nugent.
Official recognition of the award takes place in September, when Ms. Duggan and school representatives will attend a function at Belfast City Hall.