School Matters

This section of our website is devoted to young people and their schools. We hope to encourage the creative writing that is such an important part of their education by offering an outlet for their work. As part of this aspiration we hope to organise competitions for different age groups starting with this year’s Transition Year Classes.

Organised by Tuam Creative Writers, sponsored by Creative Places Tuam and held during October/November 2020.

We would like to thank all the students who took part in this competition. Clearly many of you put a lot of time and effort into your entries. The standard of writing was very high and there were at least 10 students vying for the first four places. We would like to thank the schools who co-operated with us and especially the TY Co-ordinators and English teachers who facilitated this competition.

Originally, we intended to offer 3 prizes of €100, €60 and €40 but discovered that there were 4 excellent entries. So, we increased the prize money and now have a First Prize of €100 and three runner up prizes of €50 each.

 

The winning entry came from Emma Comer. She is a pupil of Glenamaddy Community School  and her English teacher is Ms Blaithin Nangle

 

The runners up were

Ella Rafferty, Mercy Secondary School, Tuam. Teacher: Ms Aoife Hyland

Jean McGill, Presentation Secondary School, Tuam. TY Co-ordinator: Ms Leona Quirke

Ava Joyce, Glenamaddy Community School. Teacher: Ms Blaithin Nangle.

 

Here are the winning entries showing, in their many and varied ways. how four Transition Year students from North Galway have coped with Covid 19, the pandemic that has changed all our lives.

 

Jumanji by Emma Comer 

 

November 18th, 2019. The rain was pelting against the window as my dad and I were watching the 9 o’clock news, waiting for the weather forecast, as always. I saw in the bottom right corner a headline about a 55-year-old man in Wuhan, China, who had become seriously ill suddenly with no diagnosis. I paid no attention to it. Little did I know this was the beginning of something the world has never been through before.  

 

I was seated in my nanny’s house on Christmas Day, playing Go Fish with my cousins, eating Quality Street and talking nonsense. I could hear the radio from the next room. Multiple people were being treated for a mysterious pneumonia in Wuhan, China. Once again, we paid no heed. I look back on this day, almost a year later, thinking about how much we have been through in such a short space of time. We were so oblivious of the severity of the situation. This was the beginning of a worldwide lockdown – a pandemic. 

 

The first case of Covid-19 was reported in Ireland on February 23rd. The whole mood changed drastically. People became more aware of other people and their germs. The first case was in the east of the country, probably Dublin. It was a man who had just returned from Italy, where the virus was spreading rapidly. I wish now that we had taken it more seriously. Maybe this whole situation could have been stopped.  

 

One day I will never forget is Thursday March 12th, the day the schools closed, for what we thought would be two weeks but ended up being 7 months. I remember being seated in Maths class, revising simultaneous equations from our mock paper. I saw a notification come up on my iPad from the Irish Times. It read: “Leo Varadkar confirms all primary, post-primary and third level education will shut for two weeks to slow the spread of Covid-19″. I looked over to my best friend, with shock in my face. In the blink of an eye, my whole class was talking about it. Some people were panicking, wondering what would happen with our Junior Cert or how long we would be in lockdown. The Principal made the announcement next class, when I was in History. He confirmed the news that we were all talking about. It was true. This was the beginning of the national lockdown. 

 

That next Sunday, three days after the schools closed, I was seated in a local restaurant in my area, with my whole family, celebrating my aunt’s 50th birthday. One thing I remember very clearly is my cousin distributing hand sanitizer around the room before we ate. This was the first time I had done something out of the ordinary which was very strange. Little did we know this would become the “new normal”. This same day, Leo Varadkar announced that all pubs and restaurants would close for the foreseeable future. Things were becoming serious. 

 

Two weeks in. Things had escalated. Cases were rising. Still, it did not feel real to me. Leo Varadkar had announced that the schools would be staying closed until further notice. This did not bother me at the time. One thing that I remember from this stage is an email I received from my Irish teacher. She had asked us all to download an app called Zoom. My heart sunk at the thought of doing a class on a call. I let my insecurities get the better of me. I was never the chattiest in the class. 

 

That first Zoom class came by too fast. I woke up at nine in the morning, a bit anxious about this whole new experience. I turned on my iPad, opened the app and entered the code. Suddenly some of my classmates popped up on my screen. It was so strange seeing them this way. To my relief, the class went well, and within two weeks, I was having calls in most of my classes. For me, this was one of the most memorable things from lockdown. 

 

By early April, cases had skyrocketed. People were panic buying random things, like toilet paper. It was bizarre. Tesco even had to close early because of the crazy number of shoppers queuing outside. Who would have thought people would be panicking over where to buy toilet paper.  

 

By May, school was starting to ease off for the summer. We had to find other things to keep us occupied. I had a “Come Dine With Me” competition with my two sisters. I was drawn to make the starter, chicken and mushroom vol–au-vent, my older sister made dessert, mini cheesecakes and trifle, and my youngest sister made the main course of stew and mashed potato. The main course won but I think my dish was the best.

 

Over lockdown, I watched more television shows and movies than I did in my whole life before this. I binged shows such as Friends, How I Met Your Mother and Grey’s Anatomy. I also watched movies such as the Maze Runner trilogy and Jumanji. Sometimes I think this whole year is like Jumanji. We’re all just characters in a game trying to make our way to the end. I think being locked in the house has gotten to my head. 

 

Over lockdown, several trends had come and go. Tiktok blew up. People were dancing and making memories that would stay for a lifetime. With the trends came the drama. I remember one Monday, my sister and I stayed up all night keeping up with the “tea” on Tiktok. It was hilarious. It was a night filled with break ups, shadiness and scandals.

  

One of the most topical issues of the year was the death of George Floyd, an African American man murdered in broad daylight in Minneapolis. George was killed by a white police officer who knelt on his neck, blocking his airways. George’s death triggered riots, protests and looting across America and eventually worldwide. People were protesting and spreading awareness of the issue on social media.  Amongst all the madness going on in the world, we all came together to support our black community. Positivity was returning. It was so heartwarming.

  

Lockdown began to ease in July, in a phased system, the last phase coming into play in August. By now I was back meeting my friends in person and seeing my family again. We went on a weekend away to Athlone for my little sister’s birthday. It was the first time I had left my local area all year. It was overwhelming, but it finally felt like life was getting back on track, even if it was from behind a mask. That weekend was one of the best of the year, but all good things must come to an end. On the final evening, the news broke that there was a mass explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. A video of the explosion played on the television. It was terrifying. Could this year get any worse? 

 

School began in September. I was going into Transition Year. I was shaking with excitement. I had been waiting for TY for so long. It was annoying that we could not do everything other years had done, but I was determined to make the most of it for myself and my classmates. School was so different. We had to wear masks all the time, we had staggered lunch breaks and we had to separate all our desks, but I did not mind. I was so glad to get out of the house and back to normality. 

 

Towards the end of September, the second wave of Covid 19 arrived. Cases started to rise again. Lockdown number two began at the end of October, thereby cancelling any celebrations for my sweet sixteenth birthday. This brings us up to the present day, the middle of a second national lockdown. 

 

Many people say lockdown changed them as a person but that’s a bit cringey. I’m not going to say I changed but I am not the same. While my friends were cutting bangs and dying their hair wacky colors, I was watching the world go round, taking in all the new information, educating myself, helping others, helping myself and overall, just taking a breather. 

 

Now, all I must do is make it to December 31st and shout “Jumanji” and this whole year will be in the past. 

 

 

Covid 19: A Personal Response             by Ella Rafferty

 

As I sit and reflect on the last few months, I ask myself if I have come to terms with the whole situation and the honest answer is probably not. I could lie and make my life seem glamourous when we all know that life is never glamourous. I felt like a useless person standing by, looking at a movie but the last few months of my life have been the movie. Back in January I decided that 2020 was going to be my year.  For the first time in my life, I properly set goals at the start of the year. I decided that I was going to succeed and nothing was going to stop me. I was going to do all the things that I wanted to do with my life and use my year to make the world a better place…That went well. As I sit and look at my list of goals for this year at the end of November my heart sinks a little.

 

         The first thing on my list – get good Junior Cert results. I was focused, I’ll give myself that. Of course, the Junior Cert was cancelled so that ended well. For me, getting good results was more than just about a piece of paper. It was about proving to myself that I could do all the things that I wanted to do both inside and outside of school. That I could achieve above and beyond what I expected of myself. I remember being absolutely gutted when the news broke about the exams being cancelled. Writing this now, I realise that saying I was gutted is a total understatement. I was distraught at the idea that I wouldn’t get to sit any exams. I know I must be one of the few 3rd years who were disappointed that we didn’t have to sit our Junior Cert. For me, the Junior Cert was so much more than just a set of exams and a piece of paper that would be pushed into the drawer never to be seen again. It was more of a steppingstone and that when I passed it, I knew I was going the right way. It’s like during a football match. You’re plodding along doing your part and at half time you go into the team dressing room and discover that you’re winning so you know that what you’re doing is obviously working so you keep going. When the exams were cancelled it was like I had fallen and gotten injured before the half time whistle even went. I didn’t know if what I was doing was working, if I was going the right way and I guess now I’ll never know. As I slowly came to terms with the exams being cancelled, I started to see life very differently. People get injured in matches all the time. It’s what they do to get back on their feet that tell them if they’re going the right way. For me, it was how I got back on my feet after a couple of days of moping around feeling sorry for myself. I had so much to be grateful for. I had my health, my family and I had the belief in myself that I was going the right way, that I was doing the right thing. I was doing the right thing. 

          The next couple of goals on my 2020 list were all athletics based. Back in January I decided that this was going to be my year. I had the chance to make the Irish schools team this year, and I knew that I was going to do everything in my power to achieve this. I was sure that I was going to rank in the top 8 athletes in my event at the Nationals this year. I was confident that I was going to come out on top in Connacht for the first time. I knew I was going to make the Connacht schools team. I coach at my local club and I was determined to help as many of my young athletes become regional and national medallists as possible. I wanted to win.  When Covid 19 first hit, we were optimistic that the summer competitions would still go ahead. However, as time went on, it became increasingly obvious it was unlikely that there was going to be any competitions for the rest of the year never mind the summer. Again, disappointment is not the word I would use to describe how I felt at this news. So now not only was I learning from home and football was cancelled, but also some of the most important goals on my list were now unachievable. I felt useless as I realised all the hard work I had done and countless hours I had put in were now for nothing. I felt as if my whole world was literally collapsing right in front of me. What I struggled to notice at the time was that it was not just me that was feeling that way. There were thousands of people all over the country in the same situation as me and that it was completely out of my control. There was a moment when I was sitting outside on a warm summer evening at the beginning of May, when inspiration hit me like a truck. Looking back, this is the moment where I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started trying to make things better not just for me but for everyone. Yes, the main athletics season had been cancelled but I was determined that all the hard work the young athletes had done in preparation was not for nothing. For me I used exercise as a form of escape from the prison that was the inside of my head.

             For the children, there was nothing to get them out of their house and their own minds. I organised an online virtual competition that would keep the kids active, in touch with athletics and to prove to them that hard work always eventually pays off. I can now say that I made the lives of twenty children in the Tuam area slightly easier during the lockdown and for that opportunity I am so grateful. Although there were no national medals won this year, I feel like I succeeded with my original athletics goals for the year. I learned a big lesson and those who know me will be shocked to hear the following phrase come from me. I learned that it is not always about winning. Life is not always about winning. That is probably the most valuable lesson I have learned, not just over the lockdown but in my entire sixteen years on this earth.  When the news broke that there were two small athletics competitions to be held over the summer I was over the moon. Good days were had, and I did succeed in completing at least a couple of my goals, but it did not compare in any way to the feeling of goodness running those challenges gave me. The feeling that I had done good in the world and made a difference not just in my life but in the lives of others

         2019 was a tough year for me and I decided that I was going to use this year to get closer to my family not just in Galway but all over Ireland. When the lockdown began, we had no idea how long it would last. At the beginning, and even now, I find the thought of not seeing my family difficult but the phrase “staying apart together” comes to mind when I talk about my family because that’s exactly what we did. We were staying apart but it didn’t really feel like we were apart. Home is where the heart is and my family is my home. So, although we were staying apart for the good of each other we were never really apart. Be it 6 hours or 6 months I know that a simple phone call would make everything return to the way it used to be. The way it always will be because a little piece of my Nana and my aunties and uncles and my cousins and even their dogs is in my heart. Whenever I truly feel alone, I just close my eyes and reach deep inside my soul where I know they will always be. We did stay apart together and came out with even stronger bonds at the end of it.  We’ve lived through cancelled birthday parties and virtual catchups and I now know that we can live through anything. 

        My biggest personal goal for this year was to become happy with myself, my body, my soul and as I read back over the year on paper, I can gratefully say that we all deserve to be happy. The lockdown took its toll on me like it took its toll on us all. I’m not going to glamourize the hard days because there were many of them. Some hard days seemed never ending and I often wondered if we would ever make it out. One afternoon in the middle of the Summer just after the first set of restrictions was lifted, I made the decision that I deserved to be happy. That we all deserved to be happy. I mentioned earlier that I will never know if I was going the right way or if I’m living my life correctly but as I read over all the things I have achieved this year I feel eternally grateful. My completed goal list at the end of the year looks very different to what I envisioned back in January, back in March, back in July, even back in October but I can say that as I sit and compare the two lists, I feel so accomplished with everything that happened over the COVID-19 19 pandemic. I did not break, even with the cracks in my armour, I powered through and survived. I didn’t just survive, but I lived. We all lived. We lived together apart, for each other. Life is what you make it and I choose to see the good things that I’ve made from life these last few months because when I think back years from now, it’s the good things that I’ll want to remember: the socially distanced walks on warm summer afternoons, the family facetime calls, summer boardgames and homecooked dinners. The quote “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there” came to mind as I’ve been writing this. We didn’t know where we were going. I didn’t know where I was going. We got here in the end……. together. 

 

 

The struggles of being a teenager during the Covid 19 pandemic

by Jean McGill

 

March 27th

 

Well today was a strange day to say the least. I started my day the way I usually do, heard my alarm ring obnoxiously at seven, kept aggressively pressing the snooze button until half seven, brushed my teeth quickly, ate my breakfast then rushed out the door to get to school before the morning traffic. I was not looking forward to today as I knew what I had last class. Maths. And even worse – I had a maths test. As you can probably tell, I really don’t love this subject. When I got to school everyone was all talk about the “corona virus”. I don’t usually pay much attention to the news so I didn’t know that much about it. There were people saying they heard that the schools were going to close for two weeks. You know, I wasn’t against the idea of not having to go to school for two weeks. Third Year is not a piece of cake and I wouldn’t mind having a short break from getting up early all the time. It was lunch when the rumours about the school closing were confirmed on the intercom. Screams of surprise and pure joy echoed throughout the building and my friends and I were all squealing with excitement. I still can’t believe it. It just doesn’t seem real. How could a virus from so far away reach Ireland of all places? It’s so insane to me. And two weeks off school? No way. I guess it’s only two weeks but it’s still so unexpected! I guess I shouldn’t get too excited. It wasn’t all fun today though. I still had to do the maths test

 

April 27th

 

This was a weird month to say the least. Long story short, I don’t think this virus is going away any time soon. The two weeks passed and we were told we still couldn’t go back to school. We have to do all of our work online which is a totally new experience for me. Thankfully we haven’t gotten too much yet as everyone is still getting adjusted to it all. I mean not having to get up so early has been one benefit. But I really do miss my friends. We face time really often but it’s just not the same as in person. I’d say we’ll all be back at school by May but I don’t really know. My last predictions were wrong so I wouldn’t take my own word for it. I better go do another assignment now.

 

May 31st

 

One thing I learned this month. I am not suited to remote learning. At all. Every time I look at my phone all I see is notification after notification “work due tomorrow”, “new assignment”, “would you like to turn your work in?” Those notifications have started to really frustrate me. At least with going to school I could be way more organised and not be given an abundance of new work all at the same time. It’s all so stressful. My summer tests are also coming up and it’s so hard to study in this house. Having paper thin walls with two younger brothers is not the ideal situation I won’t lie. I guess I’ll just have to try my best and see how it goes. 

 

June 27th

 

I’m on my summer holidays now. Yay I suppose. I don’t really know how to feel about it actually. Usually when school ends, I feel this huge adrenaline rush after doing a set of tests and feel like I’ve made this big accomplishment and that I can take the time to relax for a few months. But I don’t feel the same this year. The Junior Cert was obviously cancelled which made me happy at first but I can’t help feeling a bit sad about it. I studied hard for the mocks and I was ready to show how much of my time had gone into those exams. I couldn’t wait to get my results back and possibly see how proud my parents would be after I got the results I had wanted. But I can’t do that this year. Yes, we did Summer tests but it doesn’t feel like a big deal. A bit underwhelming actually. I can’t even see my friends right now. I miss them so much. We text and call all the time but I miss our face-to-face conversations so much, more than I ever thought I would. And the thought of spending my whole summer locked away with my family sounds painful. They are all so loud and don’t want to give me any space. This summer is not going to be fun. 

 

July 27th

 

I think my predictions were wrong again. This summer is actually a lot of fun. You’ll never guess what. My family and I are getting along pretty well for the first time in ages. At first, I hated when they kept making me leave my room to play board games or go on long walks with them but I soon figured out that they might not be the worst after all. My brothers are actually a lot of fun (when they’re not throwing temper tantrums about losing Monopoly). My mum and I often cook together now and it’s more enjoyable than I expected it to be. On another good note, I was able to see one of my friends! We had to be in my garden and be socially distanced of course, but who cares it’s contact from the outside world so I’ll take it. I have never appreciated a talk with one of my friends so much in my life. I have one month of holidays left now and I’m pretty excited for them

 

August 27th

 

After not having school for the last five months, I will finally be going back to school in a week. It genuinely feels so strange to me but really exciting. Summer was definitely not as bad as I had expected but I’m definitely looking forward to getting into a proper routine again. We’re being told we have to wear masks and all but that doesn’t really bother me. I’m used of having to wear them in shops and to be honest, if it saves me or anyone else from getting the virus then it’s the least I can do. I’m so looking forward to wearing my new blue mask that mum got me. You never know, maybe masks will end up being fashionable. 

This virus has definitely been such a whirlwind for everyone. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life and it’s been like a crazy dream. But it is our current reality. Wearing masks, sanitising our hands regularly, keeping our distance from people, for now that is our new normal. I’ve heard so much about the positive effects that this virus has done for climate change. It really does go to show that every cloud has a silver lining! I think I and many others have much more appreciation for everything such as face to face conversations and even being able to go to school. It’s been a really tough time but it is getting better! 

I better enjoy my last week of relaxation before school starts again.

 

 

 

My Personal Response to Covid 19  – Ava Joyce 

 

It all started on the 12th of March. I was sitting in Maths class and we were in the middle of doing simultaneous equations. I was casually writing out the questions when my teacher Ms. Rae asked us to listen for a minute. She said she was looking at the news headlines and schools were closing. Our whole class erupted in panic. Everyone was on edge. I was talking to the girl beside me. Her name was Sheila and she was afraid that the next time we would see each other half our relatives would be dead. After Maths class we all went to the rest of our classes. Some people were grabbing books from their lockers. I was sitting on the bench in PE as I hurt my leg that day, so I didn’t do PE. 

 

The intercom came on and our Principal announced that the school would be closing. Everyone was happy.  I remember going home that day with my hands full of books and everyone was running around trying to get everything done. I walked onto the bus and sat down beside my friend. We were happy that we got some time off school. We all went home that day thinking that we would see each other soon. I walked off the bus as they said: “see you in two weeks!” I went home that evening. I felt kind of happy. I guess at the time I didn’t realize how much my life would change after that day.

  

As soon as lockdown started, I had to go and live with my mother as my dad works in a business that is high risk of close contact and my little brother James has asthma so we had to be careful of what we did. None of us was willing to take the risk of letting him get it. I was terrified that I could pass it to him. We were gone the next day to our mother’s house and that’s when it all began. Our online teaching started soon into lockdown. It wasn’t as stressful as I expected. I know I was in third year but it just didn’t feel like it. I didn’t have to get up as early so it was great for the first while… I would tell you about my everyday but really the only thing different about each day was deciding on what to eat for dinner. 

 

 Most days I got up around nine o’clock, had breakfast, made breakfast for my little brothers and then I started my schoolwork. I did try to keep up my fitness as much as I was motivated for. We all know motivation during a pandemic isn’t easy. I ran sometimes to clear my head. I don’t know. Being stuck in the house for days on end, doing the same repetitive thing, you’d be afraid it would get to you. After schoolwork it was homework for an hour or two depending on the day. Sometimes I would play games with my two younger brothers. Every day was pretty much the same for the first month of lockdown. It was average, I guess. I mean sometimes I sat, and thought will this ever end especially after the first two weeks of lockdown. 

  

Then 2 months later my dad arrived at our door. We knew he was coming. He texted to say he was taking us for a while as he hadn’t seen us. We all packed into my dad’s jeep that Monday and well we haven’t looked back since.  When we got home it was a weird feeling. We hadn’t been there in over two months so it was bound to be different. We were settled back very quickly thought and everything became normal for us again. It was nice to see my brothers with smiling faces for the first time in a while. We got nice sunny days and we spent most of these days outside playing. We got ourselves a blow-up pool and we spent hours splashing about and having water fights. I started taking up some baking and I made everything from apple crumble to chocolate chip cookies. Everything was nice. 

 

I continued with my online schooling and my brothers started theirs since they had nothing done before. We all got into a good organized system and soon I had my Junior Cert done. I took a few online tests with my teachers on a team’s meeting. 

 

One day we found a frog in our house. He was sitting on the windowsill. We named him Harry. James put the frog in a box. Unfortunately, by the next day the frog had died. Rest in peace Harry. Towards the end of May I shaved James’ head. His hair was wild so it needed to be done. By the end of May my Junior Cert was done and dusted and summer had begun for me. 

 

I took a week for myself. It was well needed at this stage. I took up some Art. I painted on my walls some of these days to keep myself occupied. At the start of June things became repetitive so my dad came up with an idea and he took us camping in the bog. We all went, and his partner joined us for the camping trip. We gathered everything and packed it all into our car. We drove to the field and set up the tents.  My brothers and I ran around the forest for a while until it got dark. When it was dark, we toasted some marshmallows and told some campfire stories. They were supposed to be spooky but eventually we ended up talking about the craziest things we had ever seen.  My sister and I camped out in a tent and Quinten snuggled between us. We all passed out around half one. At five in the morning, I woke. The top of the tent was damp. I touched it and it started dripping. I shuffled my way out of the tent and my sister heard me, so she followed. The two of us walked back to my house from the bog because we were ice cubes by then. I made us some hot chocolate when we got back and then we both conked in my bed at six.

  

By the start of July restrictions had eased and I got to go on my first outing in a very long time. I went to stay with a friend for a couple days. It was so nice as I hadn’t been out of the house in so long. It made me realize how much I loved being out of the house and I don’t think I’ll ever take it for granted ever again. Everything slowly started coming back to normal. I got to go out more as restrictions eased. It was all becoming more normal just with an addition of a lot of masks and hand sanitizer. We got a horse and named her Dandelion. The rest of the summer was a blur. By then it was nearly time to start getting ready for school again. The time went so quickly when you think about it.

  

We were back to school before we knew it and then I was in Transition Year. Being back at school made everything more normal except that we all had masks on and had to carry hand sanitizer everywhere. School was good thought. It was nice to be back. Once it started getting into the winter seasons it got colder. With the cold there came mice. One night I was sitting on my bed finishing homework when I heard squealing in my basket. I got my dad to look and he grabbed the basket and pulled it into the bathroom. Sure, to god there was a mouse in it. My dad killed the mouse and we both went back to bed. It doesn’t end there though. 

 

The next night I was doing homework at a similar time and saw a mouse running across my floor. I screamed and my brother ran in. It was just us at home, so we searched the press for a mouse trap and then we got some cheese. We set the trap but we didn’t set it right so the mouse got away with the piece of spicy cheddar we left out. The next night my dad set the trap properly so we caught the mouse this time. We named the mouse Remi and another one John-Joe. We had no more mice for another two days until they all started coming out. It was like a colony and by the end we had caught 11 mice. I was driven bonkers by them. I’m pretty sure if I see another mouse I’ll be tempted to burn the house down. Honestly, it’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in a while. So now that all those adventures are done, I’m just waiting to see what’s in store next. I have a feeling this is going to be a very strange Christmas.