Gaelscoil O Doghair was founded in 1985 with just 13 students. Since then they have grown to just over 200 pupils and 15 staff. The school is located just outside of the large town of Newcastle West in County Limerick. It is roughly a 10 – 15 minute walk from the town centre, and is surrounded by a several factories. The road leading to the school has a good quality pavement and is an 80 km/h speed limit. There is a drop-off area and bus park outside the gates of the school. Inside the gates is a car park and bike shelter at the front of the school. On the other side of the school is a play yard, playing field and a recently added garden. There is also a trail (great western trail) which runs alongside the school and is a shortcut into the town.
This school started the travel theme in 2008 after displaying an outstanding effort in achieving their previous three flags for waste, water and energy. They achieved extraordinary success with their ‘WOW’ days in Year 1 where they were getting close to the whole school walking on one or two of these days!. Gaelscoil O Doghair is now in Year 2 of the Travel theme and are due to restart their WOW days in January whereby in the lead up to this they will be taking part in radio interviews, running a school poster competition, creating a newsletter and learning all about climate change and its impact around the world!
Then and now
Initially travel to school was predominantly car based, with no buses running to the school and no cycling to school as there was no real place to park the bikes. After their environmental review they realised that it was possible to set up a bus service. Since then they have set up a private bus running to neighbourhoods just outside the town (approx 3-5 km outside) and now have an average of 20 pupils travelling by bus instead of by car. This has been maintained into year 2 where a recent survey indicated similar figures. They estimate that, in Year 1, they reduced car-usage by at least 15% based on minisurveys done in March 2009 but this may be closer to 20% according to the former principal. A more recent survey conducted in November 2009 indicated that, of the students that were surveyed (1st – 4thClass), 37.8% travel to school sustainably (a mix between bus, park and stride, walking and cycling). This is incredible considering the weather we have been getting. The problem of no bike parking has also been addressed where a new cycling park shelter was installed at the end of last year with assistance from An Taisce. A point to note is that since beginning the Travel theme numbers of students cycling to school have gone to an average of 10 pupils cycling to school in Spring - Summer, up from 0.
Steps to success
The school has great leadership and energy in its Environmental Committee which is then backed up really well by the staff. This can only lead to success in anything they put their hands to. They have already managed to get a lot of work done as outlined below:
Green-Schools Travel: Year 1
The school first held elections to their ‘Pupil Government’, from which an Environmental Committee was elected which meet on a regular basis.
Green trees were set up to promote the theme.
Several poster and slogan competitions have been run in order to raise awareness
The school took part in an Art Exhibition on sustainable travel in Limerick city with 6 other schools.
The School set up a private bus service which charges €1 a trip to pupils in January 09.
The school promoted walking by running WoW days in Year 1 where nearly 100% of students walked on one or two days.
They completed a walkability Audit on all the routes leading to the school.
They worked on putting together an Edible Garden which they are calling their ‘Food Miles Garden’ on which more senior classes did projects about food miles.
The school applied for and got a cycle shelter installed.
They actively promoted cycling and running CoW days on a regular basis in Year 1, by running competitions to promote cycling further, which include spot prizes for cycling to school. This encouraged 10 students to start cycling to school!
Green Schools Travel: Year 2
The school recently underwent changes in management and also in Green Schools travel officer but have still managed to roll out a poster and slogan competition in the lead up to the re-launch of their WOW & COW days in January.
A travel survey was conducted on the school in November 2009. This assisted in identifying targets for the Action Plan whereby upon review of this survey it was decided Green Schools Committee with Green Schools Travel Officer Phil Harte to concentrate a little on carpooling. It must be noted that a heightened sense of cycle safety and the necessity of helmets amongst students was found a result of doing this survey which is testament to the work completed last year on COW days and training.
For the beginning of Year 2, this school concentrated mostly on curriculum work i.e. climate change lessons, Walk around Ireland and on the construction of their Action plan for Jan 2010. This includes travel assemblies and improving the informing and involving aspect of the programme through newsletters etc.
They are currently looking into making a travel map of the surrounding area in order to address the feasibility of carpooling to the school. This is a follow on from work conducted by the committee last year on the promotion of carpooling combined with park n stride.
WOW days are due to start up again in January 2010. In the lead up to this the school is redesigning their Golden Boot and WOW awareness campaign; this includes modifying a modern pop tune as a theme tune and creating a ‘parody’ type advertising campaign for the ‘golden boot’.
The future looks green....
The school has a history of being very committed to being environmentally friendly anyway and are always looking for ways to work on this. The former Principal Daithí O Murchú (who also does the work of Green Schools Coordinator) was very progressive and energetic and the atmosphere in the school tends to be open to trying initiatives and being generally positive. The new principal Caitlin Mansfield who has recently taken over as GS Coordinator has a similar energy and eagerness to succeed in reducing car numbers to school and reduce Gaelscoil O Doghairs carbon footprint even further..