'2020 has been the most stressful year, but we're doing our best' - schools welcome first year pupils to 'new normal'

Principal of St. Joseph's CBS Secondary School in Fairview, Sean Stack pictured with first year students. Pic:Mark Condren 27.8.2020

Amy Molloy

As a secondary school principal entering her 18th year at the helm, Marie-Therese Kilmartin says 2020 was “definitely the most stressful” of her career.

But while she admits “things aren’t perfect”, she said Coláiste Bríde, Clondalkin is committed to ensuring the wellbeing of students remains the priority.

Ms Kilmartin was yesterday introduced to her 174 first years in an online assembly as they watched on in their respective classrooms.

“We decided to go with a blended approach and carry out the main speeches remotely and then met them in person in smaller groups later in the day,” she said.

Coláiste Bríde Clondalkin first day back for first year students. School principal Marie-Thérèse Kilmartin welcomes students as they arrive to start the school year. Picture; Gerry Mooney

“There was a lot of anxiety at the start, as there would be in a normal year with first years, but obviously now there’s a bit more nervousness.

“But at the end of the day I saw a lot of smiles leaving, twinkling eyes and students were being far more engaging.

“One of my fifth years who came in to act as a mentor actually told me her mother wasn’t sure about sending her back, but after being here today she felt a lot calmer and was able to go home and assure her that everything is OK.”

The school is considering giving pupils name badges to help identify those behind the masks.

Coláiste Bríde Clondalkin first day back for first year students. School principal Marie-Thérèse Kilmartin delivers her assembly in a new way to students online. Picture; Gerry Mooney

“It’s very strange, for our teachers too as they find it difficult to recognise new and old staff. The masks cover a lot of facial features,” she said.

One common complaint among her students was tiredness, despite the fact the first day was only three hours long.

Alex Barnwell, first year student at St. Joseph's CBS Secondary School in Fairview. Pic:Mark Condren 27.8.2020

“Students haven’t been in the school routine for a while and will be tired, they will need time to build up energy and stamina.”

Over on the north side, newly-appointed principal Seán Stack welcomed his first years to St Joseph’s CBS, Fairview.

“In general, the mood is positive,” he said.

“When the roadmap came out, the biggest trouble we had was the timeframe. A large part of it put the responsibility on the individual schools. Luckily, we have great staff who were able to respond.

“This school was built in 1888, so the rooms weren’t designed to hold 30 kids at one metre apart, but we’re doing everything in line with guidelines, even though it does pose an enormous challenge.”

Mr Stack said more necessary works will need to be carried out at the school over the coming weeks.

“It was difficult getting builders and contractors. On the day the roadmap came out, I ordered 150 new desks and I’m still waiting on them. We’ve had a good bit of trouble with the delivery of items needed. There’s only so much that can be done, but we’re definitely doing our best.”