This week’s blog from Northern Ireland is a guest post written by Mr. Nigel Arnold, Principal of Glengormley Integrated Primary School in Belfast. Glengormley Integrated Primary School has participated in PPI-NI’s Twinning program since 2007.
“2012: Our Time, Our Place”……the strap-line to the current Northern Ireland Tourist Board Campaign. So much to see and do…but what did 2012 really mean to us?
Thus far we have had the build-up to the London Olympics, the European Football Championships, the Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the Titanic Belfast Signature Project, etc. etc. and now the culmination to the Northern Ireland part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations; that historic handshake!
Who would have thought that after all the decades of bitterness and bloodshed; personal loss to all parties involved, that we would one day not only see the British Royal Monarchy visit Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland and speak eloquent Gaelic, but that the Queen would shake hands with a one-time senior commander of the Irish Republican Army, an organization that was responsible for a death of a member of her family? And he, a sympathizer for the downtrodden Catholic Nationalists who were shot by the hands of the Crown forces? No one could have written this! No one would ever have been able to predict this! No one thought we could get this far this fast in the reconciliation process that followed decades, even centuries of violence, hatred, bigotry and bloodshed. Yet here we are indeed. But what does it mean to us? What does it mean for us? Where do we go from here? More importantly, what does it mean to our children? What does it mean for our children’s children? A lot of unanswered questions lie out there still? Perhaps we can only guess at the answers.
It’s important as a teacher to stop and evaluate at key times of the year, and as a head-teacher, not only do we evaluate the quality of education provision in our own schools and across the country academically, but we pause to reflect on the holistic milestones all our young people are reaching in their personal and global development as we prepare them to be the adults of the future, who will one day run and manage our county and help it “fit in” to the bigger global community.
At a local level, Glengormley Integrated Primary School (GIPS) has continued to build upon almost 10 years of Integration in practice. For us as a school, that means proactively tackling and addressing the issues that affect our children across their school and community, and at a regional, national and global level. No easy task! But definitely made easier by having a shared community under one roof to work with.
GIPS have been active participants in the PeacePlayers program since 2007 and, as a partner school, have developed links and opportunities to engage with Holy Cross Boys’ School, whilst working to offer all children and staff involved a healthy development in basketball. They also have embraced the supporting program to address community relations, equality and diversity. Has it been successful? I think so! Have the events of this year had an impact on this? Yes, I think so! How do I know? The children tell me!
The pupils of the school are instrumental in the process of evaluation and when they are consulted on these matters, they always bring an insight from their perspective to the table. Pupils have, since the beginning of working with PeacePlayers, stressed their value in the programs delivered. They love the energy and excitement of the basketball, they attend and support events both during curricular time and during their own free time and they never fail to exceed the expectations of the coaches who lead their sessions and activities. This year is no exception.
The quality of the programs delivered, in particular those that embrace thought and discussion around flags, signs and emblems are professionally, sensitively and age-appropriately managed to be inclusive and progressive. Children are given opportunities to express and share all points of view, in a collaborative and compassionate way. Children lead the discussions, children open their minds and children share their hopes and fears for their future.
Of course, as an Integrated school, much of my audience of children already hold and share these values from their parents and their parent’s parents. But we, as all schools, also have those children who come from very different and diverse backgrounds and cultures, from opposing sides of the community, those who still live in segregated areas of housing and those who have traditional stereotypes of the other. It is our, and organizations like the PeacePlayers role to expose these children to each other and break down these barriers. Does an act of friendship, like the extension of a handshake, or the effort to speak in another’s mother tongue, help us to break down these barriers? Absolutely!
These moments in time will go down in the annals of our history as part of the healing process, part of the reconciliation process, part of the long-term aim of those involved in the forward development of the small part of the world we call home. It is small but it is still so important to us!
As I write this blog entry, I sit in Windsor. Only yesterday I arrived in Southern Ontario, one of the most densely populated areas of one of the largest provinces in one of the largest countries on one of the largest continents in the world. Is Northern Ireland significant to them? Do they even know where Belfast is? Do these events of the last few months affect them? Many would instinctively say no! But you’d be wrong!
Last night, I spoke with John, my brother-in-law, who lives a further 3,500 miles east of Windsor in the middle of Alberta, (almost as far as it is from Northern Ireland to Windsor, only in the opposite direction). So that’s about 7,000 miles from home! His climate ranges from -40 degrees in the winter to + 30 degrees in the summer. Often considered an isolated wilderness of harsh extremes, yet his first comments to me last night were, “So what do you make of this handshake that the Queen made with your former IRA terrorist?” How word travels fast! We have amazing global communications now, we have the technology, we have YouTube! Never before does local news, good or bad, take so little time to travel and become global news. Never before has it been so important to spread positive good news for Northern Ireland. Does this affect our children? Of course it does, they spend more time now than we do on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. They have more global “friends” than we do! They have the means to share their thoughts and opinions in a way we never could. This makes it so much more important that we, the adults in their lives, use our shared opportunities to help them shape and express their views, opinions and attitudes in a way which embraces values such as fairness, tolerance and equality and rejects such traits as bigotry, racism, prejudice and sectarianism.
PeacePlayers has helped us do this. They too embrace the digital medium to inspire, educate and share their work with the world. I guess that is partly why you are reading this now!
We must bring along the whole of our communities with us on this journey, not leave any behind. We are on a journey together and this journey is still only in its infancy but never before have so many people wanted to make it to the same shared destination. Only through school and neighborhood initiatives like PeacePlayers will we have the opportunity to reach into the hearts and minds of the young people and help to banish the fears, hatred and bitterness of the past also into the annals of history, to allow us collectively to move forward. We now have the momentum that cannot and will not allow a few, no matter how many, who are still set on killing, maiming and destroying the process to take us back to the past. But there is still much work to be done. This is why we continue with our work, and 2013 will be just as significant as 2012, (even without the extra gloss perhaps), in taking our wee part of the world to a new time and place.