Partnership Schools Ireland

Niamh Swan, North Wicklow Educate Together Secondary School

I’m a teacher at North Wicklow Educate Together Secondary School. We are a 340-student secondary school in Bray town. This year I coordinated a project with Partnership Schools Ireland (PSI). This is a joint initiative by the National Parents’ Council and the Irish Primary Principals’ Network and is part-funded by the Department of Education.  The project aims to ensure better outcomes for children by promoting partnerships between their schools, families and wider communities. We were the first secondary school to participate in this project.

The PSI programme is based on the work of Dr Joyce Epstein (Center of School, Family & Community Partnerships, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore). Dr Epstein has been conducting research on partnerships between schools, families and communities for 40 years. This research has consistently shown that when strong families, excellent schools and healthy communities overlap and work together they provide the best possible opportunities for children to thrive.

We started by forming a team made up of our principal, parents, teachers, one SNA, a number of students, our school librarian, our caretaker and two community representatives. We had two training sessions with Carmel and James from PSI where we looked at the origin and aims of the project and relevant research in the area. We discussed the benefits of parental participation in school life and community links. Then looking at our School Improvement Plan, we identified three areas for improvement: academics, wellbeing and community links. Out of this came two key goals and two main initiatives.

The first is a paired reading project with our Transition Year students and a nearby primary school. This involved TYs as part of their work experience visiting a local primary school every week and reading with students from 4th class for a block of seven weeks. This initiative fulfilled several areas: improving community links, promoting reading for pleasure and fostering well–being. It also provided a good work experience opportunity for some TY students.

The second is a cookery/ nutrition project with a nutritionist from Bray Area Partnership (HSE funded) working with a parent/ guardian/ carer and their young person over a couple of weeks learning some basics of nutrition and cooking easy healthy meals on a budget. This project is aimed at improving our community links and student wellbeing and should  provide multiple benefits to our families.

So far the project has been highly beneficial to our school and community. It has fostered  partnerships within the school community and strengthened our work together to provide positive outcomes for students. For more information on this project or find out how to get involved email James McIntyre-Ure, Partnership Schools Ireland Coordinator.