Building a School of Sanctuary: Galway ETSS navigates the journey with project-based learning

Tara Broderick, Teacher, Galway Educate Together Secondary School (GETSS)

For the past few months, GETSS has been working towards becoming a School of Sanctuary, a place where our students, their families, and staff feel a strong sense of safety.

Before the Winter Break, we had three days of Project Based Learning (PBL) as a whole school on themes related to sanctuary. During this period, we set aside our regular timetables in order to focus on project-based learning (PBL). This involved assigning students to rooms and groups for collaborative projects.

Because students across the school are mixed together for PBL we started  with warmups and icebreakers as some students may not have worked together before.  We then engaged in discussions about the concept of sanctuary, the meaning of being “marginalised,” and why inclusion is so important to us as a school.

Students were then introduced to their specific PBL themes. 1st – 3rd-year students delved into exploring and celebrating the diverse cultures within our school, with students representing over 40 countries and cultures! For their PBL, each group was assigned a country represented in our school. They created a Padlet presentation on that country and made a video using the language from that country. Students had to research various aspects of the country such as its climate, traditional dress and food, and a well-known person from that country. They used iMovie to create their videos on the language of their country, the videos ranged from a beginner’s guide to the language to a demonstration of a conversation in that language. Junior Cycle students also proposed ideas for making our school more inclusive with ideas ranging from a diversity club to how we can communicate with families who may not use English at home. It was wonderful to see all of the different cultures we have in the school and was a great celebration of our school community.

Transition Year (TY) and 5th Year students focused on exploring the experience of various marginalised groups and raising awareness about the challenges they face. The first day involved brainstorming the concept of a marginalised group. We were very clear that even though some people in the class may be a member of a marginalised group themselves, it didn’t mean that they automatically felt marginalised, just that some aspects of life might be a bit tougher if you were a member of that group. The students chose a marginalised group to research, some of these included migrants, people who are homeless and people with a physical disability. At the end of the first day, they presented what they had learned about the group they chose under co-constructed headings. For their second day, students learned about different actions that they could take to help create awareness or system changes for their marginalised group, such as learning about how to write letters to politicians. They also created a lesson that could be taught to Junior Cycle students on the marginalised group they had researched, incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles and active methodologies.

It was a wonderful way to end the term and brought a new awareness and understanding of all the different communities that make up our school.

Further reading:

  • You can read more about progressive teaching and learning strategies such as UDL and PBL on the Educate Together ethos guidance platform here.