Creating our own ‘Olympians’

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A Coleraine principal says it is vital to develop children’s talents to prepare themselves for the modern world.

Speaking during St Joseph’s college prize day, Ronnie Kelly, emphasised the importance of the pupils and how the college nurtures and supports their learning.

Addressing parents, pupils and invited guests,Mr Kelly said: “The challenge that faces education today is to shape the learning environment that best supports the individual pupil.

“We, as educators, need to develop the talents of our pupils, we must inspire and build self-confidence and encourage all pupils to find their inner strength and self belief.

“Pupils must be encouraged to be owners of their own personal Olympian journey, striving to use their talents, develop new skills and be the best that they can be. In support of these goals, the pupils of St Joseph’s are drawn into a unique learning experience, one that cradles them within the school ethos.

“This educational experience mirrors the old Danish proverb which states ‘It is better to ask twice than to lose your way once’. A questioning mind once developed, is the best building block to equip our young people as life long learners, eager to embrace whatever challenges life may have in store.”

The headmaster said that the “key to unlocking the door to success is our conscientious, dedicated staff whose role is one of mentor, coach and educator.”

He added: “They surround our pupils in an atmosphere of care and respect. This nurturing environment forms the very basis of what constitutes the life of St Joseph’s College.

“To create such a ‘Spirit of Possibility’ within the school is to empower each young person in identifying his or her talents and inspiring them to develop their inner strength to fulfil their potential.”

Mr Kelly quoted Will Rodgers in commenting upon the outstanding success of the college: “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit on it.”

The principal said St Joseph’s College has been making year on year improvements in its academic success over the past decade.

Three years ago in 2010, the school was ranked by Department of Education criteria as 13th out of 147 secondary schools in the North. Last year this improved when the school was ranked third and achieved its first bronze medal.

This year, in true Olympian spirit, the bar of success has been raised to unbelievable heights where St Joseph’s will achieve either gold or silver.

He went on to highlight the pupils’ success in detail. “98% of our students achieved at least five A* to C grades. Not content with near perfection, 80% of our pupils achieved seven or more A* to C grades, and our outstanding results are reflected in performances by Ade Owolobi with three A*s, three As and four Bs and Jill McAllister, with six As, three Bs and one C each of whom is typical of the standards set by our students.

“Not to be outdone, our A-level performance is equally impressive, with 88% of our pupils achieving at least two ‘A’ level grades A to E and 50% achieving at least three ‘A’ levels at grade ‘C’ or above. On an individual basis, Mathew Cichy achieved an A*, two As and a B.

“Such success has continued with the results of our past students who graduated from university this year. Two pupils, Amy Holmes and Hayley Loughrey were each awarded a first class honours degree and numerous of our other pupils were awarded 2:1 degree classifications.

“This makes tonight’s prize-giving ceremony a truly festive celebration. Our past pupils are now the role models for our sixth form leavers who are setting out on their chosen university course or selected career pathway, infused with the self belief to deal with the challenges that life may create. You can feel secure in the certain knowledge that you have made the best of your abilities and that you are now ready to turn your future hopes and dreams into reality.”

Collaborative partnership

Mr Kelly claimed that one of the most heart-warming and uplifting experiences of his own professional career is to walk down the corridors of St Joseph’s and meet pupils from across the religious and political divide. To see sixth form maths students from Coleraine Girls’ High mentoring some of the first year pupils in a programme designed to develop mathematical competency is a wonder to behold.

The headmaster expressed thanks to their principal Mrs Bell who has supported this innovative and pioneering work at every stage.

The work in building community bridges owes a large vote of thanks to the faith and support that the Sharing Education Programme has invested in St Joseph’s.

Encouraged by the American philanthropists under the stewardship of the staff of Queen’s University, the funding and advice given has also enabled St Joseph’s to facilitate the sterling work carried out in local primary schools. Last year Harpur’s Hill, St John’s, St Malachy’s and Millburn combined their P6 pupils and with the help of a local author and an illustrator, produced an outstanding children’s book, entitled ‘Night Train to Scaryville.’

This year collaboration between the art departments of Coleraine College and St Joseph’s produced the highly acclaimed art exhibition that was displayed on the corridors of Coleraine Hospital for both the visitors and the patients, of the hospital to enjoy.

Mr Kelly went on to say that every school is ultimately judged by the strength and dedication of its staff. It is through effective team work that young people are empowered. The teacher’s job, as a role model and mentor, cannot be overstated.

No one has worked harder in support of pupils at St Joseph’s than Mr Brolly. Sadly, he retired this year after a lifetime of dedication to the students of the College. He is one of life’s great characters, one of the College’s unsung heroes and although he is wished all the very best in his retirement, he will be a great loss and a difficult act to replace.

Congratulations also go to Mr Friel who is leaving to take up the post of principal of Edmund Rice College in Glengormley. He continues the College’s tradition of supporting excellence throughout the education system and follows in the footsteps of Maurice McHenry and Liam McKee who left St Joseph’s to take up principals’ posts in the past.

Concluding his address, Mr Kelly, spoke to the pupils: “To create more positive results in your life, replace the phrase, ‘if only’ with ‘next time’ and move confidently into the next stage of your life, in the full and certain knowledge that all happy and successful people agree that nothing could have held them back, as long as they dared to dream.

“Remember, that while travelling on the road to success, which began at St Joseph’s, never be afraid to ask for help. Enjoy every moment, maintain focus and never waste time on the “might have beens.”

“Think big,” says guest speaker

St Joseph’s College was pleased to welcome Professor Tony Gallagher, Pro Vice-chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast as this year’s guest speaker.

His main academic passion lies in issues relating to equality and social inclusion in education.

Professor Gallagher praised St Joseph’s for its leadership in developing creative and innovative approaches to partnership arrangements in education in the Coleraine area.

He referred to the uplifting experience of pupils from local schools meeting each other on the corridors of St Joseph’s and joining together to study in collaborative classes.

He offered words of encouragement to the young people on the need to “think big” and aspire to be the best. “Never forget to remember that life comes to those who seek it, not to those who wait.”

Professor Gallagher was overwhelmed by the quality of the gift presented to him by Niamh Tosh, a year 11 pupil.

Niamh had spent long hours replicating an art piece first produced by her under the Sharing Education programme which had been displayed on the corridors of Coleraine Hospital.

In thanking her and the school, he stated that such dedication, talent and generosity were a credit to her, her family and her school.