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Saturday 19 October 2019

Armagh students make history by presenting project aimed at tackling sectarianism at world's largest digital mapping conference

Students from three schools in Lurgan presented their cross-community project to the ESRI International User Conference in San Diego

Pictured presenting their cross-community project in San Diego are (L-R): Leon Van Der Westhuizen, Lurgan Junior High School; Aiesha Mouhsine, St. Ronan's College; and Hannah Trew, Lurgan College.
Pictured presenting their cross-community project in San Diego are (L-R): Leon Van Der Westhuizen, Lurgan Junior High School; Aiesha Mouhsine, St. Ronan's College; and Hannah Trew, Lurgan College.

Áine Kenny

Students from three Armagh schools presented their cross-community project to more than 19,000 people at the world’s largest digital mapping conference in San Diego this week.

Both Protestant and Catholic students worked together to create a project aimed at tackling sectarianism and division in Lurgan.

Pictured presenting their cross-community project on the main stage in San Diego are (L-R): Leon Van Der Westhuizen, student, Lurgan Junior High School; Robert Logan, teacher, Lurgan Junior High School; Aiesha Mouhsine, student, St. Ronan's College; Hannah Murtagh, teacher, St. Ronan's College; Hannah Trew, student, Lurgan College; and Alistair Hamill, teacher, Lurgan College.
Pictured presenting their cross-community project on the main stage in San Diego are (L-R): Leon Van Der Westhuizen, student, Lurgan Junior High School; Robert Logan, teacher, Lurgan Junior High School; Aiesha Mouhsine, student, St. Ronan's College; Hannah Murtagh, teacher, St. Ronan's College; Hannah Trew, student, Lurgan College; and Alistair Hamill, teacher, Lurgan College.

Their project was showcased at the Esri International User Conference, the world's largest Geographical Information Systems conference.

The students' project involved visiting locations across the town, recording their perception of safety within that space on a mobile app, analysing this data using mapping software, and then highlighting ways of making Lurgan more inclusive for all.

The PSNI and local community groups are using the findings from this survey to reduce segregation in the town.

The pupils are the first students from outside the USA to present on the main stage. The conference has been happening for 39 years and 128 countries take part.

Pictured presenting their cross-community project in San Diego are (L-R): Leon Van Der Westhuizen, student, Lurgan Junior High School; Robert Logan, teacher, Lurgan Junior High School; Aiesha Mouhsine, student, St. Ronan's College; Hannah Murtagh, teacher, St. Ronan's College; Hannah Trew, student, Lurgan College; Alistair Hamill, teacher, Lurgan College; and Constable Michael Walters, PSNI.
Pictured presenting their cross-community project in San Diego are (L-R): Leon Van Der Westhuizen, student, Lurgan Junior High School; Robert Logan, teacher, Lurgan Junior High School; Aiesha Mouhsine, student, St. Ronan's College; Hannah Murtagh, teacher, St. Ronan's College; Hannah Trew, student, Lurgan College; Alistair Hamill, teacher, Lurgan College; and Constable Michael Walters, PSNI.

The Armagh project fought off steep competition, eventually being chosen by digital mapping company Esri ahead of thousands of other school projects from around the globe.

Lurgan College, St Ronan’s College and Lurgan Junior High School's Shared Education Project showcased students working together to bring about positive change in their communities. 

Three students, three teachers and a member of the PSNI travelled to San Diego to present the project.

From the project, the students showed that Lurgan is still a very divided town. Residential areas tend to be segregated and public spaces are often underused, especially at night.

Pictured presenting their cross-community project in San Diego are (L-R): Leon Van Der Westhuizen, Lurgan Junior High School; Aiesha Mouhsine, St. Ronan's College; and Hannah Trew, Lurgan College.
Pictured presenting their cross-community project in San Diego are (L-R): Leon Van Der Westhuizen, Lurgan Junior High School; Aiesha Mouhsine, St. Ronan's College; and Hannah Trew, Lurgan College.

The survey showed that sectarian divides still exist in Lurgan, highlighting locations that certain students rarely or never visit, and other areas which they feel uncomfortable and unsafe in.

The students then discussed the reasons behind the findings, as well as coming up with ideas to reduce these divisions.

The pupils' insights were shared with the PSNI, the local council and the community relations council.

The schools used Esri's mobile apps and Esri's ArcGIS online mapping system to carry out the project, along with the help of teachers and Esri Ireland's ArcGIS for Schools team.

Alistair Hamill, head of geography at Lurgan College, said it was an honour to be chosen to travel to the US and present in front of "such an engaged and global audience".

"The students are an inspiration and this has been a life-changing experience for them. As well as presenting at this prestigious event, through the project they have increased their understanding of their town and each other - forming lifelong bonds with new friends. They have also shown the power of collaboration and demonstrated the possibility of a more peaceful and inclusive future," Mr Hamill said.

Jack Dangermond, founder and president of Esri, said that this next generation of thinkers will solve our current problems. “It is truly inspiring to see these young people collaborate using GIS to tackle deeply rooted issues in their community," he added.

Esri Ireland specialises in the application of geographic information systems (digital mapping).

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