Jeannie McLaughlin, the Head Girl of St Cecilia's College in Derry, shows off the award which the school has received after securing the title of Secondary School of the Year.
Pupils at a Derry college which has won a prestigious educational award have spoken of their 'pride and joy' at the school winning the accolade.
St Cecilia’s College was recently selected from thousands of nominations as one of the UK's most inspirational schools, winning a Pearson National Teaching Gold Award.
The news was broken to staff and pupils on a 'live' video link by presenter Alex Jones on the BBC's 'The One Show.'
The award was presented to the school on Thursday last by the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council.
The presentation ceremony was held in the school's assembly which, under normal circumstances would have been packed, but due to Covid-19 restrictions around 30 pupils and several members of the school's board of governors were able to attend.
Speaking to the Derry News after the ceremony, pupils spoke of their delight at winning the award.
Shanna McCallion said she was 'over the moon'.
She added: “I think we deserve it so much for the things the school does for us.”
Head Girl Jeanne McLaughlin described winning the award as 'really well deserved'.
She added: “It is an amazing achievement for our school, for our staff, past staff and pupils. It is just amazing for our city.”
Cathy Quigley also descibed the winning of the award as 'amazing.'
She said: “I think it is really good that we have won it. I have not been here for that long – I have just been here for about a year – but I have made a lot of friends. The staff are really supportive of everything we do and deserve it. It is just amazing.”
Emily Smith said: “It is really, really good because out of all the UK we are the best secondary school of the year.
“It is just amazing how we all worked together and to receive this award.”
Also speaking to the Derry News, principal, Martine Mulhern, paid tribute to past members of staff.
Ms Mulhern, who has been principal at St Cecilia's for nine years, said: “I feel so proud of the school and so pleased for the work the staff and everyone in our community has put in through the years.
“This is not an overnight success. This is building on the work of all the former principals, all the former staff.
“Personally, I feel proud that I have kept up the tradition of St Cecilia's.”
School chaplain, Fr Joe Gormley, said the award 'means a lot' to the Creggan community.
He added: “It is a real affirmation of the great work that is being done in the school.
“This school has alays done great things with the Creggan community, going back many, many years. I am just honoured and proud to be here today, not only as a member of the board of governors, but as a member of the parish of St Mary's, Creggan, to recognise the great work this Catholic school is doing in helping our young girls become the persons God wants them to be.”
Speaking at the award ceremony, Mayor Tierney said the award was a 'massive achievement' for the school and 'for us as a community.'
“Over the past number of months with the Covid-19 pandemic there has been doom and gloom and we have been worried about our relatives and everything that has been going on but when when spread across this city that St Cecilia's had received this award I was inundated with messages from former pupils, some who are still in the city, some who aren't, asking me what we were going to do in this city to recognise this huge, huge achievement.
“St Cecilia's is not only Secondary School of the Year in Derry, or in the North but right across the UK.
“I think it is a massive achievement and it shows how resiliant we are as a community to be able to adapt so quickly.”
Addressing the pupils, Mayor Tierney added: “For most of 2020, your education was done in an online format and to change that very quickly shows the dedication, not only of the principal, the board of governors, the senior leadership team within in the school and all of the staff,
“For you and your families to do this in any year is a huge, huge achievement, but to do it in 2020 with everything you are living through and going through, makes it even more of an achievement.”
Ms Mulhern revealed to those present how she was inspired to put the school forward for the award.
She said: “A new member of the Education Authority came into the school to introduce herself to me. She came from England and was a past head teacher herself and had come as part of her remit to find out about schools in the area.
“Talking to her about St Cecilia's, the whole way through she just kept saying 'wow' and at the end, said 'Do the CCMS know this/ Do the Department of Education know this? You need to tell people what you have done in the school and for the girls.
“For the first time, I realised what in second nature to us what we do on a day-to-day basis as a school community,is actually quite important and quite exceptional.
“So, I put pen to paper and I started to write about St Cecilia's from the heart and that resulted in telephone interviews, 'zoom' interviews with very distinguished panel which resulted in us being awarded the silver medal in September and last week were were awarded the gold.”
Ms Mulhern added the award 'formally' recognised that St Cecilia's had 'some of the best results, not just in Derry, not just in Northern Ireland but the best results in the UK'.
She added: “Staff in the school are praised for creat- ing opportunities through bespoke partnerships and collbaration programmes to inspire our girls to achieve qualifications, employability skills and the mindset that will ultimately help them on their path to success.
“Our partnership with Lisneal College and St Mary's College has been hailed as an example of best practice, continuing to promote a shared vision for our city and I have to say that of all of the congratutions we have received, I was completely blown away by the numbers of parents from Lisneal College who offered their congratulations through Facebook or contacted me directly.”
Ms Mulhern said the award was 'well deserved' for the pupils, each member of staff, board of governors and partner organisations who, she said, 'put our girls first each and every day and go over and above what is expected to make sure we give you, our girls, the best quality of education we possibility can'.
“But, most of all, it is a recognition for our amazing girls – their resiliance, kindness and humour makes every day a blessing. We make a difference every day because we love our girls.”
Ms Mulhern concluded: “We are proud to accept this award on behalf of our school, on behalf of our community and on behalf of this city.”
Ciaran O'Neill, chairperson of St Cecilia's board of governors, spoke of the 'magnitude' of the college's achievement.
“It is important we take a moment to recognise the magnitude of this award, not just for the school or the whole community, but for the city of Derry.
“It is amazing. We are blessed with wonderful teachers, we are blessed with a dedicated and forward-thinking leadership.
“Our principal has been inspirational in bringing this award – she is passionate every day and fights her corner on behalf of the school with the board of governors and she puts in the time to make sure that we are doing the right things for the school.”
St Cecilia's College, whose motto is 'Aspire, Endeavour, Achieve,' has almost 1,000 pupils on its roll books and around 60 teaching staff.
The college moved temporarily to the premises vacated by Templemore Secondary School on Northland Road to facilitate the construction of a new building which opened for the start of term in September 2010 on its original site on Bligh's Lane on the edge of Creggan housing estate.
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