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three times the joy on school's big day

TRIPLETS Narayanan, Aurora and Zoe Gifford started secondary school yesterday and it was big day for both the three sisters and Irish education.

"It's like when we came from America and we were getting on a plane. It's a bit like a dream," Zoe (11) told the Herald.

"It's more interesting than exciting," her sister Naryana added.

"I don't think it will be very different from primary school," Aurora chimed in.

What was the most exciting thing about starting secondary school for the triplets? Chemistry for all three.

The triplets, from Portland, Oregan in the US, kicked off their first day of school in style yesterday.

They were joined by 63 other pupils and their parents at the Hansfield Educate Together Secondary School.


The first day of term at the Dublin 15 school also made history as one of just three Educate Together secondary schools in the country.

It becomes the second of the pioneering schools to be found in the city, following on from Kishoge Community College in Lucan.

It is expected that Hansfield will eventually grow to accommodate 1,000 second-level pupils. It is currently housed with its primary school counterpart but will eventually move to a new college across the road.

The first Educate Together primary school - the Dalkey School Project - opened in Ireland in 1978.

Now there are 74 primary schools around the country, with 17,000 pupils in their classrooms.

But this week a new era was ushered in when the doors opened at Hansfield, Kishoge and Ballymakenny College in Drogheda.

"The opening of the new schools is the culmination of a very long campaign," Educate Together ceo Paul Rowe told the Herald.

It is hoped that in the next two years that there will be five more Educate Together secondary schools up and running.

Balinteer and Balbriggan are the next Dublin localities targetted. Close by Cellbridge and Wicklow will also see Educate Together secondary schools open, as well as one planned for Carrigaline, Co Cork.

The Educate Together approach differs from traditional schooling in several key ways.

Firstly, there is no religious education in these schools - instead students learn about ethics.

Those ethics, according to Ongar principal Bernie Judge, mirror many of the morals taught by churches, but the schools are non-denominational.

Secondly, the emphasis is moved from the rote learning typical of Irish schooling toward more critical thinking, said Mr Rowe.

"We want to create an environment where a child's full range of skills is brought out," he added.

"They will learn to learn and do their own research," he told the Herald.


"It will prepare them for their academic career and their working life," he said.

Principal Judge is responsible for getting the first batch of students through the Hansfield school, and she said she is excited at the task ahead of her.

"It's like we have been given permission to try something new and that's exciting," she explained.

"We want to take the best of what's happening in Irish schools and add to it," she said. "We are especially going to work on what the students think that school should and might be about.

"There are lots of things about life that school should prepare you for and we will work towards that," added the principal.

Aideen Maher, from Ongar, waved her son David off on his first day of secondary school yesterday.

He had attended an Educate tTogether primary school and his mum was thrilled when the possibility of sending him to the same type of secondary school came about.

"It's all very unknown at the minute but we are expecting great things," she said.

Tanaiste Joan Burton officially opened the school yesterday as nervous pupils made friends with their new classmates and were introduced to their teachers.

A total of 12 teachers will look after the pupils over their next five years at Hansfield.

Languages, technology and art are all on offer for the pupils on top of the core subjects.

The students will still sit the regular State exams at Junior and Leaving Cert levels.

The new schools at the three sites are 20 years in the making, said Mr Rowe.

This year was important for Educate Together as they received significant support form the government, he added.

Mr Rowe said the Ongar site will continue to grow year-on-year.

The top floor of the school will house the secondary pupils for the moment.

Eventually Ongar will be home to a very large school complex.

The commuter town will boast two primary schools as well as the new secondary school over the coming years attracting pupils from all across the city.