'It was an unbelievable time': Cork pupils reflect on school closures as they prepare for next year's State Exams 

As students continue to adjust to changes in school life as a result of the pandemic, John Bohane spoke with pupils in Cork about their experiences since March 2020 and their preparations for next year’s exams. 
'It was an unbelievable time': Cork pupils reflect on school closures as they prepare for next year's State Exams 

Leaving cert. pupils, Brendan Quain, Stephen Whooley, Patrick McGrath, Grace Doran and Kelly Leahy of Colaiste An Chroí Naofa, Carrignavar who spoke about their experience's with studying during the pandemic. Pic: Gavin Browne

Secondary school students have faced enormous changes to school life over the past 20 months as a result of changes introduced to reduce the spread of Covid-19, including adapting to enforced school closures and remote learning as well as facing exam disruption and separation from close friends.

However, pupils from Carrignavar based Coláiste an Chroí Naofa say the changes were not all bad, with a common theme emerging about how they felt their relationships with their classmates had grown stronger.

With Christmas just around the corner, students at both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate levels are preparing to sit their exams next year, with June 8 the proposed start date for the State exams.

As things stand, accredited grades are not on the agenda for the Leaving Cert, and there will be no change to the duration of the exams.

There will, however, be more choices in the Leaving Cert exams next summer.

Leaving and Junior cert. pupils of Colaiste An Chroí Naofa, Carrignavar who spoke about their experience's with studying during the pandemic. Also in picture are Andrew Barry, teacher and principal Colm O'Corcora. Pic: Gavin Browne
Leaving and Junior cert. pupils of Colaiste An Chroí Naofa, Carrignavar who spoke about their experience's with studying during the pandemic. Also in picture are Andrew Barry, teacher and principal Colm O'Corcora. Pic: Gavin Browne

Leaving Certificate student Stephen Whooley is thrilled to be back in a routine once again.

“Leaving Cert is going well so far this year. It is great being back in school and being back in a routine again,” he said.

The teenager enjoyed the online learning experience, but he believes there is no substitute for the school environment.

“We did a lot of work through the online resources. We had a nice mixture of live classes and pre-recorded classes. They also set up assignments for us to do during class. It worked out very well. Hopefully, there will be no more closures and we can continue to come in and learn on a daily basis. Online was good, but you can’t beat the inhouse environment for learning,” he said.

Fellow student, Brendan Quain said he found it very hard to not see his friends during the lockdowns.

“People of our age want interaction and companionship. It was very hard during the lockdown. We were in front of a screen for nine classes a day. We had to show a lot of resilience.”

Brendan praised the support they received from the teachers at Coláiste an Chroí Naofa.

“Our teachers and school were great. They did so much to help and facilitate us. We got lots of support and help which was so vital. The teachers were very understanding,” he said.

The impacts of not seeing friends 

Kelly Leahy agreed that not seeing her friends was very tough and said it was mentally “very challenging”.

“Not being able to see friends was very tough,” she said.

“It was such an unusual experience. Being at home all day meant the day was so long. It was mentally very challenging. Social media was a big help in keeping in contact with friends. Getting regular exercise was also important. The support from our families and teachers was so good.”

This was echoed by Patrick McGrath. “It was very tough from a mental and physical perspective. Students had to show great character,” he said.

“You feel much better when you are up and about and seeing people rather than sitting in front of a screen all day. It has even built the spirit among our class. We are talking way more to each other to make up for lost time.

“Being back in school with people and playing sports makes a massive difference. It was very hard not seeing your friends and not taking part in extracurricular activities.

“The most enjoyable part of school is kicking a ball at lunchtime or going to training after school. That was all gone. It is great to have it back,” he added.

Concerns over points inflation 

The sixth-year pupil is hopeful the points will not rise sharply when the CAO offers are released next year.

“The points inflation was tough this year, but hopefully it might get back to normal for us next year. It is playing on the back of our minds, but we will do our best. We have to get on with it and do the best we can.”

Grace Doran paid tribute to the teachers for their support throughout which she said has ensured they have caught up with all the school work they missed out on during the school closures.

“The teachers were very supportive and accessible. It was very easy to contact them online,” she said.

“They were always there to help out as much as they could. They did very well to maintain as much structure as possible.

“It was a strange time but everyone rose to the challenge.”

Resumption of Junior Cert exams 

Juinor Certificate exams have not been held since the summer of 2019 due to the pandemic and the junior cycle students at Coláiste an Chroí Naofa are looking forward to completing their three-year programme next summer.

Junio cert. pupils, Nikki Hosford, Caoimhe Hegarty and Sarah McGrath of Colaiste An Chroí Naofa, Carrignavar who spoke about their experience's with studying during the pandemic. Pic: Gavin Browne
Junio cert. pupils, Nikki Hosford, Caoimhe Hegarty and Sarah McGrath of Colaiste An Chroí Naofa, Carrignavar who spoke about their experience's with studying during the pandemic. Pic: Gavin Browne

Third-year student Sarah McGrath said she has a new appreciation for school.

“Our last full year in school was in sixth class and now we are in third year. It is crazy how time has flown by. We appreciate school way more now it is open. We are far more grateful. A big downside with the exams being cancelled the last two years is the fact that we don’t know what is likely to come up. We will prepare as best we can. We are getting great support from everyone in the school.”

Her classmate Caoimhe Hegarty was in agreement.

“The teachers were a great support system to us. They were very understanding. Online was a great help. None of us fell behind thankfully. It was an unbelievable time. It was very confusing. It was so hard not to see your friends. Nothing beats going into school every day, seeing your friends, and learning,” she said.

Nikki Hosford is also enjoying seeing her friends every day.

“The transition from primary school into all of this was very hard. It was challenging and very confusing. The uncertainty was so tough. We hope things settle down and the schools will stay open. I feel ready for the junior cycle.

“Seeing our friends is key. It is so good to see people again, enjoy their company and the laughs. Sport in this school is also great which is another big outlet. We are looking forward to getting through the junior cycle,” she said.

'The students are so resilient'

Andrew Barry, who is the geography teacher at Coláiste an Chroí Naofa, was full of praise for the ‘resilience’ all their students have displayed since the onset of the pandemic.

“On March 12, 2020, we went from a physical school to an online school in 24 hours. We were lucky that the platforms were set up and ready to go. Everyone wants to be in a classroom, as you can’t have the same interaction online. It is not the same.

“The students are so resilient and level-headed.”

The teacher said supporting pupils from a well-being perspective is also important.

“We are working very hard with them. It is not just about their learning. They are being supported from a well-being perspective. Well-being is so important. There is a huge section dedicated to wellbeing in our junior cycle. We get speakers to come in and we organise school walks. It is great to have sports back as well.

“The students are at the centre of the decisions that are made in the school. That is really important as it is all about the students,” he added.

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