Established since 1854 and located in the heart of Derry city, St. Eugene’s Primary School has weathered many storms and crises over the years and Covid-19 is most likely not the first pandemic the school has lived through.
But the local Catholic primary school, whose grounds are partly shared with St. Eugene’s Cathedral, continues to play its part in teaching the children of frontline NHS staff.
St. Eugene’s has remained open since the start of Covid-19 last year and continues to teach key workers' children and those who are vulnerable in a safe and warm environment, with principal, Teresa Duggan, stating: ‘We are honoured to support frontline NHS staff who are the real heroes in this pandemic, saving lives and putting people first.”
At the forefront in promoting high standards in teaching and learning, the Francis Street school has also invested in online programmes for pupils to support them through digital learning especially when having to work from home.
For Ms. Duggan, a native of Aghyaran, near Castlederg in Co Tyrone, now in her second year as principal, her tenure has been a baptism of fire but she believes the pandemic will pass and a form of normality will resume.
"I most definitely had a baptism of fire at St. Eugene’s but thankfully I’m surviving and that’s down to the great support I get from everyone here.
“I believe a school’s success is not solely on tests and results but educating our young people to know that they can face and cope with anything that comes in life.”
Praising her dedicated staff for their willingness and effectiveness to get through this, the second wave, she said her task was made easier by the support she’s received.
“Covid19 may impose temporary restrictions but it will pass and it’s legacy should be one where we have developed a more confident, resilient and thankful generation which values others.
“I am truly indebted to such a wonderful staff and board who have went beyond the call of duty not only in preparing for this second lockdown but also in how they worked together so effectively during the last lockdown.
“With teachers and ancillary staff so willing in coming in to supervise key worker children and those who are vulnerable made my job a lot easier in organising such provision. It’s tribute to the spirit of St Eugene’s in ‘doing our best’ to help others.”
Sudanese doctor, Dr. Abelmoniem Ahmed, has nothing but praise for the local school where his four- years-old son Ashruf attends the nursery.
Based at Altnagelvin Hospital for eight months now, he witnesses first-hand what Covid can do to the community and how it has affected peoples lives in the city.
He applauded the school for their dedication in looking after children of frontline carers.
“Covid is a major worry for us all but it’s good to know that our children are looked after while we work. Myself and my wife have nothing but affection for St. Eugene’s.”
Another frontline parent, student nurse Lorraine Barrett also spoke highly of the staff and the safe environment they provide for her daughter, eight-year-old Kari, who suffers from underlying health issues.
Kari is presently in remission from Neurone Blastoma and is still considered high risk.
“Being in the health service, I work 12-hour shifts. The school has been magnificent throughout this pandemic. I drop Kari off in the mornings and since March last year I’ve never had to worry about her.”
Ms. Barrett also had nothing but praise for Kari’s classroom assistant.
"Tara Roddy, her classroom assistant, is brilliant. The peace of mind I get knowing she’s in safe hands makes it easier going onto the wards each day.”
Kari’s mum says her daughter also loves the school and the happy, warm environment if offers.
Ms. Duggan also praised parents for playing their part.
“Parents are doing sterling work regarding online/remote learning during lockdown too. It’s lovely to stay connected and I thank them for sharing all the fabulous work the children do at home. We recently purchased new online programs to support them in digital learning and help them continue achieving high standards."
Looking forward to getting back to a more normal school life in the coming months, she added: “Hopefully, when it’s safer, we will return to enjoying all our wonderful ‘wrap around care provision’ with the continuation of our previously established Breakfast Club with our 8am start and numerous qfter school activities that will again run up to 5pm daily. From September 2020 staff have been running a number of after school clubs within class bubbles which reflects the excellent support made available to working parents."
Stressing that the school will continue to play its part in the coming weeks and months, Ms Duggan concluded: “St Eugene’s is and will remain a school of sanctuary welcoming all backgrounds and ensuring that children are taught in a safe, happy and inclusive school environment and we hope everyone in our community stays safe and well during these unprecedented times.”
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