Scoil Mhichil Naofa, a large primary school situated in the busy town of Athy, began the travel theme in September 2008. The school is very dedicated to the Green Schools Programme. A great enthusiasm for the travel theme was expressed from day one. Work on the previous themes and commitment to maintaining them is in evidence throughout the school.
The traffic issues in Athy also became apparent from my initial visit; with serious congestion issues in the town around school start and finish times. Almost all students live in or close to Athy town. The school has a dedicated special needs unit. Many students travel from outside the town to avail of this unit.
Provision of Infrastructure:
Scoil Mhichil Naofa is located behind the church in Athy, just off the Monasterevin road. As such it is well serviced with paths running to the school. There is a pedestrian crossing at the school gate. A lollipop man services the busy crossing at the church. However, parking outside the school is extremely limited. Also, there are no cycle lanes servicing the school.
Trends for school travel before the travel programme began:
At the initial meeting with the Green-School coordinators it was established that most pupils were driven to school. Some parents dropped their children at the nearby church. Unfortunately, most that are driven are dropped off outside the school gate leading to massive congestion issues in the morning and afternoon. The students with special needs are for the most part carried to school by bus. Aside from these, very few students used the bus. No students cycled to the school. It was reported that some students did walk to school, though relative to the numbers who live in close proximity to the school, the number of walkers was minimal.
The students and staff of Scoil Mhichil Naofa have genuinely embraced the travel theme with massive enthusiasm and gusto! The school has a vibrant and dedicated green schools committee in existence, spear headed by two coordinators who have displayed sincere zeal for implementing change.
Scoil Mhichil Naofa has been very proactive in implementing actions towards achieving modal shift, to date. All students are constantly encouraged to make responsible travel choices, with a view to independent walking or cycling whenever possible. As a result of this the travel habits of the students from Scoil Mhichil Naofa have changed considerably.
Steps to success:
In order to highlight the issue of school travel and to inform the students of its implications, all students were presented to by their travel officer, Chiara Hanrahan. The parent’s council and all staff also listened to a presentation from Chiara.
Once the whole school were informed, the real work began! Christmas 2008 saw the official launch of the school’s WOW campaign. Students were greeted and congratulated by the Green-School Coordinators, school Principal, Chiara and the road safety officer as they braved the elements to step to school. The rain did not dampen spirits! Each walker received a sticker and a huge clap on the back for their efforts. This was the beginning of a hugely successful WOW campaign, with walking numbers sometimes hitting a high of 90%. A major increase in the numbers walking has been reported on other week days also. Measuring success is an essential part of this programme. Each class in the school count and graph the number of walkers on a weekly basis. The results are displayed on each classroom door via a Green Tree and committee members collate the information. The weekly winners are awarded with the highly coveted golden boot, weekly. Student’s efforts are constantly praised and the weekly winners are very proud to hear their class called out over the intercom.
On the National WOW day, the school made a huge effort. Students blinged up their tracksuits and took to the streets. They marched through the town, with a Garda escort. This was a great exercise in awareness raising. Media generated from this event drew a lot of interest from the public. A walkability audit was carried out by all the Green-Schools committee. The purpose of this was to assess the route from the student’s point of view, to highlight the positives and to note where extra caution was necessary. The students audited the most commonly used routes to school and displayed their findings to the school.
To complement all the fantastic work this school were doing on the promotion of sustainable travel, Scoil Mhichil Naofa staged their first official road safety week (March). Both the RSO and Chiara Hanrahan met with all students to discuss road safety issues. Various competitions were run during the week, ranging from drama to art. Also, junior classes had the opportunity to play road safety games. Every student was given road safety information to take home. Also, to reward students for their enthusiasm and efforts, Chiara spent a couple of days playing travel related games with the students. This also served to reinforce the valuable messages of the travel theme.
On your bike!!
Owing to the massive success of their walking campaign, Scoil Mhichil Naofa applied for and was delighted to receive cycle parking from An Taisce. Once installed, the promotion of cycling began. The school launched their COW campaign during National Cycling week. A ‘Safe Cycling’ day was run in the school for all the cycling enthusiasts. Chiara had great fun teaching the students basic skills (helmet fitting, bicycle check etc) and the students were delighted with the prizes they received on the day. As the Rose of Tralee was a past pupil of the school, she was invited to officially open the parking facility.
September saw the students receive cycle training, which was enjoyed by all immensely. Some students sat on a bike and cycled for the very first time! Equipped with their new skills and a will to reduce their carbon emissions even further, the students of Scoil Mhichil Naofa began to bike it with gusto. Most days, their newly installed parking facility was full to the brim. Based on this, An Taisce decided to fund more parking for the school! This is currently being installed. Also, the school were successful in their application for funding for extra cycle training.
The future looks green.....
Although the school will shortly be assessed for their travel flag, these students have no intention of resting on their laurels. Plans to launch FFF (Feet First Friday) are currently underway. Once the second phase of cycle training is completed the school plan to relaunch COW and have another cycling fun day. A reduction in carbon emissions, a healthier student and a decrease in congestion around the school gates are the results of the schools fantastic work to date!
Keep moving Scoil Mhichil Naofa – with all your hard work, the future really does green!