Before I traveled to Ireland, I was under the impression that it was more or less just like the U.S. Needless to say, once I arrived I realized how untrue that notion was in thousands of big and little ways. One thing that stuck out to me was the differentiation my BC supervisor made between what she called “American rich” and “Irish rich.” She was alluding to the fact that Ireland, as a country, has an overall lower economy than the U.S. I saw that through my travels, but also in the classroom. Scoil Bhride helped me to understand this disparity more deeply, especially because it was located on Shantella Road, which is an area of Galway where many working class, immigrant and traveler families live. As a result, Scoil Bhride’s students come from a variety of countries, sometimes as refugees, and some face prejudices as children of traveler families, and most of them came from much more modest backgrounds than I do.
The teachers and administration of this school recognized this, and addressed their students’ home lives in a variety of ways. For one thing, students paid the school a few euros for each schoolbook, and for things such as an arts and crafts fee, and photocopying fee. Administrators and teachers would allow students to bring in one or two euro at a time, lend money to students and just ask that they bring in a small portion of what they owed each week. Teachers also provided a variety of supports for students who had newly entered the school system, struggled or were learning the English language. Interactions like the one I described in my previous post with my Nigerian student were common occurrences, regarding how supportive teachers are of their international students. A bulletin board in the hallway celebrated the diversity of places from which Scoil Bhride’s students hailed, with pictures of each student holding signs announcing their home country.
In talking with my students, I learned a lot about the values and responsibilities they held. Sometimes a student would show off a new pair of sneakers, and explain to me how much of their allowance they had to save, where they bought the shoes and what a good sale they found. Not only were those stories precious, but they showed me how proud these young fourth graders were of their ability to buy their shoes, or whatever new thing they were showing me, and it showed me how much they appreciated that new item. I saw this most memorably from my students on my last day in the classroom. When my Mom visited me, she brought little puzzle erasers and I (heart) NY pens for my class. I had saved them until December, and allowed the students to pick their erasers and colored pen. I have never seen students so grateful and impressed by such little gifts. Many of them were upset that they didn’t remember it was my last day, and started giving me packs of chips or little erasers as gifts. It was one of the cutest exchanges with students that I ever experienced, and made me appreciate the little things so much more because they did.
Overall, I think the school showed me a lot of how they addressed the needs of their students, in all aspects of their lives. Always, the students were treated with respect and understanding and offered the supports they needed. I saw how the school community encouraged gratitude and pride in accomplishments, which of course are excellent qualities for all walks of life. My students taught me to be more grateful and the school showed me how to support all students, no matter where they come from.