How One School Helps Students Break Through Barriers

As a part of Dr. Darren Kelly’s Community Advocacy and Inquiry class at Champlain Abroad Dublin, psychology, social work and education students have the opportunity to be directly involved with the Dublin community through weekly placements at a local community-based organization or school. During the fall, his students were placed in a range of locations: high school classrooms, preschool centers, Montessori schools and have also worked with Travellers or tutored refugee children whose native language is not English in a one-on-one setting.

This map shows our walk from the apartments
to Saint James’ School

This semester, we were placed at Saint James’, a Catholic inner-city primary school for boys and girls. Saint James’ is a designated disadvantaged school that works to boost each child’s chances of success later in life and decrease their tendency of dropping out before completing their education. It also works to close the gap between low-income families and those who do not have various levels of economic hardship. Teachers have smaller class sizes in order to give the much-needed attention to every student in order to keep them from falling even further behind their peers. Teachers place high encouragement on parent involvement throughout the school day as well. The school has a dedicated classroom for pupils with autism and has an impressive multi-sensory room which allows students with behavior problems and communication disorders to have the ability to combat anxiety and escape from the irritants and other distractions in their regular classroom. We both have students in our classrooms that are allowed to go to this room when they need a sensory break. This school does a great job at finding as many ways as possible to help these students break the barriers that present a challenge towards achieving success in education.

Rebecca’s Experience

Classroom for six and seven year olds at
Saint James’ Primary School

One of the most rewarding weekly experiences I have had in Dublin was my placement on Wednesdays at Saint James’ School, because I had direct involvement with the local community. I started out the semester in a Senior Infants classroom, working with children ages five to six. On the first day, I really enjoyed observing their team teaching style, because Kate’s classroom joins mine and the students are broken up into smaller groups. Two other professionals also come into the classroom, so there are four different groups based on reading and comprehension levels.

Halfway through the semester, I was able to work with Ms. Smith who teaches First Class, students ages six and seven. My new classroom has been working on the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph and I was able to observe auditions a few weeks ago. I really enjoyed watching these students change from appearing shy and reserved on stage, to really embodying their character just two weeks later after learning techniques in their Speech and Drama class. The Drama teacher handed out scripts last week and there was one boy in particular whose face lit up when he was given a script that was his own to take care of; he couldn’t wait to take it home and practice with his parents!

Of all my placements since freshman year of college, I have particularly enjoyed my work here in Dublin, because I was able to take away so many attention-gathering techniques and other teaching methods that I have not seen used in the States.

Kate’s Experience

For the past four months I have had the great pleasure of spending one day a week working with a class of Senior Infants at St. James Primary School here in Dublin. Ms. Mahon’s class is made up of sixteen vivacious, curious, and comical five and six year olds. Each week I spend my Wednesdays with these wonderful students working on subjects like reading, writing and spelling, math, and cognitive skills. The students in this class, some who have come to Ireland from a different country, are all at different levels when it comes to these subjects. I spend a good amount of my time in the room assisting the students that are slightly behind the rest. Now that my time with the students is up, I feel very rewarded because over these past four months I have seen many of them grasp concepts that were foreign to them a short while ago.

About two months into my time with the class the idea of doing a pen pal unit came to me. My mother is a first grade teacher in Connecticut and her students, being roughly the same age as mine, would make the perfect pen pals. The students were ecstatic when Ms. Mahon and I first shared the news with them and quickly began brainstorming what they wanted to tell the students in America and questions they had for them. Ms. Mahon’s class and I began the process by writing letters to the students in Connecticut, attaching a picture of each student to their letter, and sending them across the pond! My family came to visit for the Thanksgiving holiday and that was when my students received the letters from their American pen pals. My mother came with me to deliver the letters and I wish I could describe the joy and excitement the students expressed. The entire class read their letters aloud, showed off the pictures of their pen pals to their classmates, and made personal connections to their pen pals based on what they wrote.

This experience in its entirety has been amazing and I am so grateful to the Champlain Abroad program, my professor Darren Kelly, and the faculty of St. James Primary School for providing me with this wonderful and unique opportunity.

Rebecca Reid and Kate Kalfaian
Early Childhood/Elementary Education
Champlain College Dublin
Fall 2013

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