St. Colman’s Primary School in Northern Ireland has received Erasmus+ funding to run ‘a game changing’ Key Action 2 project, partnering with schools in seven countries
St Colman's Primary School in Annaclone may be a small, rural school, home to only 200 pupils, but they have got their eyes on the wider world. The school is gaining a more international outlook, thanks to Erasmus+ and eTwinning, and is partnering with seven other schools from Norway, Turkey, France, Bulgaria, Italy, Latvia and Romania.
Bridging the gap
Pupils and staff are taking part in a Key Action 2 Strategic partnership project, entitled ‘Bridging Three Generations: Timeless Games and Toys’, that aims to establish a sustainable bridge between the oldest and youngest living generations - grandparents, parents and grandchildren - through the use of traditional games and toys.
While the older generation have a wealth of knowledge of crafts, sports, DIY, oral traditions, song and dance, there is a fear that the younger generation will lose these skills to their tablets and smart phones. This project is bringing the generations together; the old will pass on their knowledge and traditions and in return the young will share their digital skills. It’s a game where everyone is a winner.
All initial contact with partner schools was made through eTwinning, the free online community for schools and colleges in Europe. Taking the time to look through all the potential partners enabled St Colman’s to find the ones that best suited their school and their project. Kevin O’Neill, Acting Principal, says:
eTwinning proved to be the catalyst and the vehicle that enabled like-minded educators to create their magic!
The project is helping to add an international dimension to the school curriculum and develop an international outlook in the pupils, staff and parents. Pupils in Annaclone have been involved in video conferencing with pupils in Rome, writing to pen pals in Latvia, exchanging Christmas cards with Romanian pupils and creating an outstanding Irish Ring Board for each of the other schools. The pupils have also created apps and games on their iPads, based on the traditional characters from their grandparents’ folk stories. Five days after the app went live it had been played in 37 countries around the world!
With the children developing games for iPads and gaining coding skills, Kevin believes the experience is preparing the children for the global economy and the ever-changing job market. “If an architect is needed in Barcelona, a town planner in Munich or a surgeon in Rome there is no reason whatsoever why the best in the business should not have been educated here in St. Colman’s.”
Erasmus+ is making this vision possible by improving learning provision and opportunities for our children.
In the first year of the project teachers have visited partner schools in Turkey, France, Bulgaria and Latvia and plan to visit the remaining partners in Norway, Italy and Romania next year. At the training in Billom, France, teachers from all countries discussed inclusion and how grandparents and the schools could work in tandem to help improve learning provision for children with learning difficulties. Kevin says that it has been fascinating to see how the education systems operate in their partners’ countries and explore the creative ways they have of delivering a diverse curriculum, often in the face of financial hardship. They have also been able to see how parents and grandparents can make a positive impact on attainment and personal development.
The Erasmus+ effect
Erasmus+ has undoubtedly helped raise the profile of St Colman’s and enabled staff and pupils to interact with people from all walks of life. At their project launch event in September 2015, staff and pupils mixed with diplomats, foreign nationals, local schools, the media, the British Council and various other dignitaries and VIPs. It has also led to the school linking up with the Ivan Vazov Bulgarian School based in Northern Ireland, providing a great opportunity for staff and pupils to link with members of the Bulgarian community. As a consequence of this relationship and their work together at grassroots level, both schools were invited by Secretary of State, Teresa De Villiers, to a garden party in June 2016 as guests of Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Other activities have seen pupils writing to the Embassies of their partner schools and receiving parcels and letters of goodwill from the Ambassadors themselves. One of the pupils even received an invitation to travel to the Turkish Embassy in London and be gifted a Turkish Football Shirt for choosing to support Turkey during the recent European Finals.
Kevin says the project has already had a profound effect and says “Bringing our outstanding practice to the four corners of Europe and showcasing the work we do here has helped us achieve our Investors in People Award (Silver). It has made us much more reflective and creative in our outlook as teachers. Teachers love nothing more than sitting down together to discuss education and their craft. Erasmus+ lifts this to a whole new level!”
Erasmus+: the game changer
The new mind-set is tangible across the whole school community – with Continuous Professional Development (CPD) opportunities for staff and new learning opportunities for the children. Video conferencing with an Italian classroom at the age of eleven is not only enhancing self-confidence but also developing cultural awareness and open-mindedness. Children can tie learning to real people and places; the wider world is no longer an abstract concept. Kevin believes the project is certainly helping to meet the Department of Education Northern Ireland policy for school improvement (Every School a Good School).
“Erasmus+ has been a fantastic adventure for our school. The CPD opportunities available to staff are unique. Video conferencing allows us to break down barriers to learning and develop a growth mind-set in our children. Hosting the partner schools in March 2017 will be one of the biggest events ever to happen in Annaclone and involve the whole community. Erasmus+ is a definite game changer!”