It is five years since Portlaoise Educate Together NS opened its doors to 33 pupils in the temporary home of the VEC tech in Railway St, Portlaoise.
Now with 352 pupils from a staggering 41 countries, housed in a bright new building in Summerhill, the school is about to send forth its first batch of 6th class graduates, and is establishing a fully functional autism class.
Hopes for an Educate Together secondary school in Laois were backed by CEO Paul Rowe, when he officially opened the school last Thursday morning May 21.
“We want to provide a second level school in Laois as soon as possible, unfortunately I can’t give you a date,” he told the audience of pupils, parents, staff past and present, and local politicians.
He recalled their start in the tech, while thanking the VEC for providing it.
“It was a historic building, with soaring staircases and parquet floors. A heating issue had the principal almost convinced there was a ghost,” he said.
The ethos of Educate Together, with 78 schools now across Ireland, is “equality of access to children “irrespective of their social, cultural or religious background”.
It was an exciting day in the Portlaoise school, beginning on the bright chilly morning with the release of a cloud of multicoloured balloons into the blue sky by excited junior and senior infants, who followed with a rousing rendition of pop anthem ‘Happy’.
Speeches by heads of parents and students councils, and the board of management praised the school staff and principal Sinead Ahern, with Lynnette Kmalo, BOM chair noting “We would be lost without Sinead, she is worth her weight in gold”.
The principal praised her staff and pupils.
“This school is funded by the Department of Education, and is bright and spacious, but if it wasn’t for the people that inhabit it, it would just be a building. The staff work tirelessly, volunteering their time and skills during and after school, and the reason they are so willing, is because of our wonderful boys and girls, and that would not be possible without our amazing parents. I am incredibly proud of our school. Whatever your contribution, we thank you for supporting us,” she said.
Sixth class pupil Joke Usman said it was an honour to be chair of the student council, thanking her teacher Dara.
“The school is so colourful, I wouldn’t like a dull school,” she said.
Joanne Kucharz is chair of the parents council.
“We see our children go in and out of school with such happy faces, this is such a life changing opportunity for everybody,” she said.
Mary Cosgrove, committee member in 2009, planted a cherry blossom tree, while a bench, chosen and assembled by fifth class, was unveiled.
Then not one but a rainbow of ribbons were cut at the entrance by speakers, ending with the CEO Paul Rowe ably helped by pupils.
After refreshments in the GP hall, parents visited their children’s classrooms, while a bouncy castle later in the day ensured all the pupils were indeed all ‘Happy’.