Success for Foyle School of Speech & Drama despite classes having to move online

The founder of Foyle School of Speech and Drama Sandra Biddle has spoken of her pride in her students after putting aside her own misgivings and learning new technology to help guide them through to success in Grade 8.

Friday, 7th May 2021, 1:39 pm
Georgia Donnelly presenting flowers to Sandra Biddle, Foyle School of Speech and Drama awards last week. Included from left are Eildh Oâ€TMConnor Abby O'Donnell, Aimee Doherty and Leah Curry. (Photos Jim McCafferty Photography)

Sandra Biddle who with the assistance of her husband John and daughter Blathnaid set up Zoom classes with students back in October, said she was delighted that the venture proved a success.

She said: “I would normally satay away from all forms of technology - I always look at the current generation and social media and how they are influenced by people who really in days gone by you wouldn’t have given a second thought to. I never went down the road of getting a Facebook for the school or anything like that and about 10 years ago the only way I dipped my toe in was I got a website and that was it. I stayed clear of technology and it wasn’t until the pandemic that that changed.”

During the the first lockdown, the school, like everything else was closed down even before the Millennium Forum, where it is based closed its doors. It wasn’t until September 2020 that the classes got going again as society reopened . “A good friend Paddy Simpson said, ‘Look Sandra there is a theatre down there in the cinema, and you can have that’, and we were there quite happily in Brunswick cinema up until everything was closed down again in October.

”By that stage I had started the grade preparation with these seniors and with this group they would all start doing their A Level courses after grade 8, so I knew that if they didn’t do it this year they would never do it, and so I embraced technology and said, right Ok and the Zoom classes began and the rest is history!”

Sandra said the online tutirals would never have happened but for the help (and patience) of her husband and daughter. She said keeping the school going, albeit virtually, proved beneficial to everyone. “I know for us, for the children and my own self and my family, the first lockdown was in the good weather and whileit was difficult not seeing loved ones, I don’t think it hit the pupils or myself as hard as the second time.

“The second time we were closed down you could physically see the pain etched on young people’s faces, and I think too on a different sphere the coping strategies needed for young people today would need to be looked at in both schools and the wider society.

“I knew at that time I needed to be offering something at a community level so I had to learn Zoom, and it was down to my family. My husband John took me through step by step and if it wasn’t for him andBlathnaid the classes just wouldn’t have happened.”

“Seeing the smiling faces of the young people each week and the enthusiasm and commitment and them getting organised - doing grades requires quite a bit of organisational skills- was brilliant, and I was saying to them that these are skills they can use in their lives. They may not be TikTok skills but these are skills they can take into the future and the children embraced it, and they have come out of this awful year with something to show for it. And I told them this is a time they are going to remember and look back on.”

A former lecturer in Communications at Magee, Sandra said she never thought she’d be using technology for human communication and “for us to do it and do it successfully and be recognised for that success”.

Sandra said she will wait to see what happens in the coming weeks and months before getting any high hopes of a return to normality, but would be delighted if the Foyle School of Speech and Drama could return to the Millennium Forum for September. “Tthat would be great and if that isn’t possible if we could get back together as we miss the contact.”

The students and Sandra were able to get together with social distancing last week for the awards and she says it was bitter sweet. “I realised how much they had grown in a year, they became 16-year-olds, young men and women, and every one of them towering over me! It was bitter sweet seeing what we have missed, but so good seeing one another again.”

And whatever ther future may hold, the school will continue to provide “a supportive caring atmosphere” for its talented students long into the future.