St. Brigid’s aspiring to be great

Pictured from left to right, Gerry McMonagle (Director of Learning - St. Brigid's College), Padraig Kelly, Pat Carlin (Aspire NI), Shona Melarkey and Nathan Murphy. (ANI0303AQ01)
Pictured from left to right, Gerry McMonagle (Director of Learning - St. Brigid's College), Padraig Kelly, Pat Carlin (Aspire NI), Shona Melarkey and Nathan Murphy. (ANI0303AQ01)

In between English and Maths lessons, 12 year-old St. Brigid’s College pupil Padraig Kelly, dreams of becoming an animator.

Padraig is from Westland Street and along with every Year Eight pupil at St. Brigid’s College he is taking part in ‘Aspire NI’, an extracurricular programme focused on helping to build upon numeracy and literacy skills, improve social and health outcomes and generally help young people to raise their aspirations.

Local artist Tommy Long with some of the St. Brigid's College students who are taking part in the Aspire NI project.

Local artist Tommy Long with some of the St. Brigid's College students who are taking part in the Aspire NI project.

“I am really enjoying the ‘Aspire NI’ project. I developed a real passion for animation and at home I made a video of some of the animation I am working on,” said Padraig.

“The ‘Aspire NI’ project has helped to improve my confidence and it’s great learning new skills and trying new things.”

St. Brigid’s College Director of Education, Gerry McMonagle, took the decision to add ‘Aspire NI’ to the school’s extracurricular programme when he met with Ciara Ferguson, manger of Greater Shantallow Area Partnership (‘Aspire NI’ facilitators).

“I met with Ciara Ferguson towards the end of the school year in 2012. We decided to set-up a steering group and now the ‘Aspire NI’ project is in full flow in the school.

“We have a great partnership and working relations with the Greater Shantallow Area Partnership and I can hand on heart say that I have noticed a significant change in all of the Year Eight pupils taking part in the project.”

The pupils have a lot of input into the ‘Aspire NI’ project. If there’s a particular activity or subject they are interested in both the staff at the school and the ‘Aspire NI’ team will try to facilitate them.

St. Brigid’s College have drafted in the help of some of the school’s former pupils and local people who have gone on to be successful in their respective careers.

“It’s all about engaging with the young people and listening to what it is they have to say,” said Gerry.

“It goes without saying that in terms of academic achievement the curriculum is of the utmost importance but at St. Brigid’s we believe in looking at the pupil as a whole and that’s why we decided to get involved with ‘Aspire NI’.

“The project helps to motivate young people by letting them sample many different activities such as creative writing, animation and video. It gives the young people a chance to find out what they are good at and once they identify that they can aspire towards achieving within that particular activity.”

He added: “I think real credit has to go to the young people because the ‘Aspire NI’ project takes place after school and most of the children aren’t getting home till after 4pm - that’s dedication for you,” he smiled.

Pat Carlin, ‘Aspire NI’ co-ordinator, works for Greater Shantallow Area Partnership in delivering the project and she said that the “holistic approach” to a child’s education is something that can reap significant rewards later in life.

“Like Gerry said, it’s about engaging with the pupils on a level that they feel comfortable with.

“It’s not about us, as in the teachers, and them, as in the pupils - it’s about taking a holistic approach when it comes to the young person and the ultimate message that we want to get across is that as long as the young person believes in his or herself, then they can achieve anything they want.

“St. Brigid’s College have a great approach when it comes to the Year Eight pupils at the school and I have every belief that the ‘Aspire NI’ project will help a lot of the young people to achieve success.”

In recent weeks, Pat has brought the creators of ‘Uproar Comics’ into the school to talk to the pupils about animation.

Pat also invited the Nerve Centre into the school to work with the pupils and educate them on the concept of story boarding.

“There’s a mutual respect between the staff and the young people. The staff want nothing more than for the young people to succeed and the young people are engaging with the programme and are learning as they go - I have been amazed at the progress.” said Pat.

Shona Melarkey is 11 years-old and said she dreams of becoming a beauty therapist when she leaves school.

Shona said that what she liked most about the ‘Aspire NI’ project is that it provides pupils with an alternative to the classroom.

“Obviously it’s important that we work hard and do well within the classroom but sometimes studying is not for everyone.

“The good thing about the ‘Aspire NI’ project is that it’s practical and it offers us the chance to try out new things and by doing that we can find out if we are any good at them or not.

“I really enjoyed meeting with the people from the Nerve Centre and learning about story boarding - it was a lot of fun,” she said.

Twelve year-old Nathan Murphy is from Culmore. Nathan said that he has enjoyed taking part in the ‘Aspire NI’ project so much that he continues with his activities when he gets home after school.

“The ‘Aspire NI’ project is great because it has opened my eyes to a lot of things I never knew I could do.

“One of the things we have learned is how to make our own animated videos using little clay models - I’ve even started doing it at home - it’s just such a great project and I would highly recommend it to all of the Year Eight pupils who will be at the school next year.

“It’s definitely helped me to improve my confidence and self-belief and when I get older I want to do something with the skills that I have developed,” he said.

The ‘Aspire NI’ project is a three year project and this year’s programme will finish at the end of June. For more information telephone Pat Carlin (028) 7135 1002.