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St. Maries of the Isle in Cork Designated Champion School of Sanctuary

Congratulations to St. Maries of the Isle Primary School in Cork for being designated as Cork’s second primary school declared as a Champion School of Sanctuary following a School of Sanctuary Monitoring Visit on the 6th of June 2024. 

The School of Sanctuary Monitoring Team included Teachers from other  Champion and Member School of Sanctuary Schools, Partners and Supporters of Sanctuary Initiatives from Cork Migrant Centre, Welcome English, A student from UCC and Coordinator of School of Sanctuary both with experiences of International Protection  system in Ireland.

It was an absolute honour for the Schools of Sanctuary Monitoring Team to be invited to St Maries of the Isle. From the moment team arrived in the school they experienced a nurturing space of inclusion and welcome by and for all. The on-going efforts by the school demonstrate a commitment to diversity, inclusion and welcome. The many diverse backgrounds of their student population are reflected in the infrastructure of the school and their on-going commitment to provide spaces both inside and outside the school that promote safety, care, and wellbeing of all pupils and staff in the school.

Cultural Day Celebration at St. Maries of the Isle Primary School Photo credit: St. Maries of the Isle Primary School

We witnessed how the school strives to be a haven where diversity is not only accepted but celebrated and visible in all aspects of what you do. As a team, we recognise that a diverse community enriches a learning environment and broadens perspectives, both socially and culturally. By taking a whole school approach, the school has taken significant steps to embrace identity and a sense of community that goes way beyond the school. It was clear that the school has a mission to foster an inclusive atmosphere where every student feels valued and supported.

From team’s observations, St Maries of the Isles has not embarked on this journey merely to receive a School of Sanctuary status, but has embedded inclusion, diversity, dignity and respect as its core principles over many years, creating a well-established environment where empathy, compassion, acceptance, self-realisation and inclusion are at the forefront. The school has committed to several initiatives to move this agenda beyond the school through community engagement initiatives, organised cultural exchange events, cross-school engagement initiatives and engagement with UCC. We encourage them to continue to foster and build on these relationships.

The integration of cultural and ethnic diversity into their curriculum and everyday interactions in the school was highly impressive. Through the School’s Padlet presentation, they demonstrated the importance of working together, both staff and teachers to build global citizenship principles. Teachers, pupils, school administrative staff and parents play a crucial role in this journey. The Padlet presentation indicates a dedication to creating an inclusive classroom environment that ensures that every student can thrive. Some of these important initiatives include the ‘Be the I in kind!’, ‘Remember the Why?’ and the ‘Odd Sock Day’, all embracing a special sense of belonging and show that we are all important parts of a collective whole. School’s Padlet presentation and the activities we witnessed on the monitoring day signal a call to embody the values of respect, dignity, and kindness in their daily activities.

Students at St. Maries of the Isle performing different music and songs while wearing their beautiful traditional dresses

The videos they show in class highlight the importance of people’s stories and speaks in a very powerful way to understanding inclusion and exclusion. Showing films like ‘The Swimmers’ gives an insight into the hidden struggle that some people and families face and the very difficult paths that people must endure to make it across countries to safety. The reading books they embed in their curriculum are also impressive and tell the lived experience of exclusion. The buddy system and the welcoming environment they as a school provide, show how the school have woven the importance of cultural identity and belonging into the identity of the school, bringing home and school life together. As a team, we were really impressed with how teachers interact with pupils and embed confidence in every child through promoting cross cultural learning and a holistic learning environment. Noted was the warmth experienced in the school and exceptional parent-school engagement, where children stand out as individuals while also nurturing a sense of solidarity and togetherness.  As a team we loved the ‘soft start’ approach of the school.

Parents from different cultures sharing and serving food of their cultures at St. Maries of the Isle on the day of Monitoring Visit

The physical environment for supporting each child is exceptional in the school – the Nurture Room was noted as a specific space that breathes belonging, care and understanding and responds to the uniqueness of each child. The sensory garden was considered an important space for learning, exploration and wellbeing. The outdoor classroom was also noted as a special space for ‘time away’ while also remaining a productive learning and engaged space. The link between the pre-school was also noted as an important site of connection and continuation.

Overall, the team felt that diversity speaks for itself in St Maries of the Isle. Diversity is not only a goal but an on-going mission of the school.  The school represented a holistic learning environment where everyone is nurtured, and this extends out to the wider school community. It was wonderful to see the collaboration of teachers, pupils and parents to make the school such a worthy champion School of Sanctuary.

We wish to extend our deepest gratitude to everyone who has contributed to the on-going work and focus on inclusion. Your passion and dedication have made you all worthy recipients of the Champion School of Sanctuary award. We wish you every success in driving this initiative forward and in continuing to work together, to learn from each other, and to build a school and community where everyone feels safe, welcome, and valued.

More photos from the Monitoring Day

School community serving food on the cultural celebration day at St. Maries of the Isle

School community serving food on the cultural celebration day at St. Maries of the Isle

School of Sanctuary Monitoring Team and School Teachers from St. Maries of the Isle on the Schools of Sanctuary Monitoring Day

Another photo from the Monitoring Day at St. Maries of the Isle Primary School

In conclusion, your efforts are a testament to your collective commitment to building a society where humanity and human respect prevail. Your efforts reflect your belief that education is not just about achievement but about building communities, cities and spaces of equal opportunity for everyone and nurturing compassionate and responsible global citizens. As you move forward, carry that spirit of sanctuary in your hearts and in everything that you do. You are a gem in our community and making a positive change in the world.

You are an exemplary Champion School of Sanctuary. Thank you to the staff, students and parents for the warm welcome and wonderful hospitality.

Anyone wanting to learn more about St. Maries of the Isle, especially to be inspired by their good practices, you can access their Padlet by clicking  here

Big congratulations on receiving the Champion School of Sanctuary award.

Dr. Claire Dorrity Team Leader

School of Sanctuary Monitoring Team

To learn more about Schools of Sanctuary and  or to join the School of Sanctuary Network, you can reach us via: