On Wednesday the 18th of May 2022 Kilrane National School officially became a School of Sanctuary
It was a great honour for the staff and students of the school to be bestowed such a prestigious award. Kilrane is now only the 8th school in the Republic of Ireland to have received this status. This was a journey that we, as a school began at the beginning of 2021. Tiffy Allen who is the national co-ordinator for Schools of Sanctuary paid us a visit. With a Direct Provision Centre a kilometre down the road and several children who were living there attending our school, we thought it would be greatly beneficial to have something in place to welcome these families into our school. Kilrane NS has always been a diverse and inclusive school with children of many nationalities attending as well as having an autistic unit. We considered ourselves to be an extremely welcoming and inclusive school for all who attend and work here. When we heard about Schools of Sanctuary and what it stood for, we knew that it would be a good fit.
Firstly, several teachers came together in the school and began to look at how we could improve our school in ways that would make it feel like a sanctuary for everyone who attends. The teachers decided it would be best for a student committee to be formed so that this entire approach would be student led with many great student initiatives. The committee would meet regularly and discuss what we could do to further ourselves in becoming a School of Sanctuary. All the while, the three steps that Schools of Sanctuary outline were in the forefront of our mind: Learn, Action, Share.
Over the next year and a half, the students and staff of Kilrane NS work tirelessly to ensure no stone was unturned in making Kilrane a more welcome place for everyone. We completed nationality surveys, had poster competitions, created whole school collaborative art and signed and displayed our pledge form. Students from the committee led the way in learning about refugees and attending zoom meetings regarding different crises throughout the world. In March of this year, we were shocked by the news of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. We heard of substantial numbers of Ukrainian refugees coming to Ireland and we knew that we would be very well equipped in taking these children into our school and making them feel safe and welcome due to the work we had put in previously. We set up a morning welcoming committee that would welcome the children from the provision centre and bring them to their classrooms. Our school was also assigned a support teacher to help provide for the Ukrainian children and we were lucky enough to have a spare classroom that is now the base room for all Ukrainian children and a place where they can go throughout the day.
Around that time, we decided we were ready for a monitoring visit and contacted the national team. A date was set for Wednesday the 18th of May. Our staff, School of Sanctuary committee and entire school were extremely excited and prepared for the visit. It was decided by the student committee that we would have an International Day. Each classroom learned about countries that children in the school were from and created class projects. Poems, Songs and Dances were learned, Art was designed and the food was made. Parents were asked if they could send in food from the different nations represented in the school. The response was overwhelming and there was enough food to feed all of Wexford let alone our school!
The 18th of May arrived, and so did our visitors. It was a spectacle to see the flags and decorations in the school hall accompanying the food. The Schools of Sanctuary team were given a warm welcoming of tea, coffee and cake on arrival and everyone sat and chatted merrily until the School of Sanctuary student committee arrived. The children and the team immediately began conversing back and forth and it was clear to see that the team was impressed with the knowledge and understanding that the children showed towards what it meant to be a School of Sanctuary. We then split into groups for a child led tour of the school. We visited the special needs classes, the playground, and a range of different classes throughout the school where the students of Kilrane demonstrated their knowledge of the world and understanding of what being a School of Sanctuary is all about. Homayoon, who was part of the team and from Afghanistan shared his experiences with children in several classes and it gave the children even greater insight into what life is like for most refugees.
Finally, we congregated back in the main school hall where our centre piece was on display. Food from 29 different countries was laid out for all to sample. Our visitors were given first dibs on the spoils before the students began to make their way to the hall one class at a time. The energy on the day was amazing and a real sense of celebration was felt by everyone. The team then had a quick meeting to review what they had witnessed in the school. When the team had finished reviewing, the teachers and student committee assembled with them for a breakdown of what they thought of our school. The feedback as amazing. They found our school so welcoming. They saw a genuine respect between staff and students that resonated in all sectors of the school. They were so impressed with the depth of knowledge all the children had about Schools of Sanctuary and especially the willingness of the students to share stories and initiatives. And finally, the delegation of Places of Sanctuary decided that Kilrane National School is definitely a School of Sanctuary. The sense of achievement was felt by all throughout the school and warranted an official whole school night off homework!
Our commitment to Schools of Sanctuary is greater than ever! The next day we did our bit for ‘share’ by appearing on RTE News! This was because we all learned the Ukrainian Eurovision winning song, ‘Stefania’, with the help of our Ukrainian friends! It was great fun and helped us to understand what it’s like to be working through a language we don’t know.
Check it out here School sings ‘Stefania’ in support of Ukrainian pupils
It has been a great journey to arrive at this day and we look forward to carry the mantle of Schools of Sanctuary for many years to come!