St Paul’s teachers applauded for ‘going the extra mile’ for students

Education Minister, John O'Dowd and Mary Black (PHA) at the launch of the Derrytrasna Awards.  The awards were established in recognition of outstanding pastoral care provided by schools.  Also pictured are pupils from St Paul's Junior High and Principal Dr Fionnuala McCann. Left to right - Mary Black (PHA), Fionnuala Moore, Ben McConville, Dr Fionnuala McCann, Tiernan Mulholland, Minister O'Dowd, Marc Comiskey
Education Minister, John O'Dowd and Mary Black (PHA) at the launch of the Derrytrasna Awards. The awards were established in recognition of outstanding pastoral care provided by schools. Also pictured are pupils from St Paul's Junior High and Principal Dr Fionnuala McCann. Left to right - Mary Black (PHA), Fionnuala Moore, Ben McConville, Dr Fionnuala McCann, Tiernan Mulholland, Minister O'Dowd, Marc Comiskey
  • St Paul’s Junior High School wins Derrytrasna Award
  • Applauded for excellent pastoral care
  • Nominated by teenager Marc Comiskey

Just 16 years old but Marc Comiskey has already overcome some challenging obstacles however he is very grateful for the support of his school, St Paul’s Junior High School in Lurgan.

Marc has Asperger Syndrome and the condition has led to some difficulties interacting at school, however, an inspiring teacher, Dr Fionnuala McCann worked with Marc and helped him through his school life.

It ties in with the ethos of the school and teachers here who are prepared to go the extra mile to support the needs of youngsters regardless of what the circumstances are.

Mr Sean Flanagan, Principal

For five years Dr McCann has been a constant, supporting guiding Marc though his difficulties and helping him focus on his school work.

A bright and polite young man, Marc has risen up through his challenges and, with the help of the school, developed mechanisms and tools to help him cope.

And he is well aware of how much the school has helped him, so much so that he nominated St Paul’s for the prestigious Derrytrasna Award which aims to recognise and applaud schools which have excelled in pastoral care.

Shocked school principal Mr Sean Flanagan said the first he heard of the award was when he got a call from the Department of Education to say they had received a nomination for the Derrytrasna Award for our teacher Miss Fionnuala McCann and that the nomination had come from Marc.

Marc said: “Dr McCann has been more than a teacher to me.

“For the last five years she truly helped me.

“She went above the call of duty and responsibility that all teachers should.

“She is truly the best friend I ever had in this school. She helped me so much and how to cope with the various stages.

“She always got an assistant into classes when I requested. She always had time to take me and herself out of class so we could discuss what to improve on,” said Marc who added that he would have regarded Dr McCann as much as a mentor as well as a teacher.

Mr Flanagan explained that Dr McCann made sure that everyone was aware of Marc’s special requirements as he made his way around the school. “And as he needed, if there were any difficulties, Dr McCann was there to help,” said Mr Flanagan.

“She was always available for Marc and approachable and understood him very well. Knowing that he had that degree of support within the school, there was always somebody, no matter what the problem was, he knew there was someone there to help him sort it out.”

And the 16-year-old Derrymacash pupil has excelled at school having already passed his Maths GCSE early.

He particularly enjoys digital imagery, technology and design and science.

Marc is planning on going to St Ronan’s to continue his school work.

He explained that compared to all the colleges and the distances away, he said he prefers to keep it to a simple schedule.

“I am the type of person who sticks to one thing,” he said.

Mr Flanagan said Dr McCann, who has since left the school, had a special affinity for pupils with special needs and abilities. “She really laid the groundwork for us and all the teachers here know what she would have done. They know the type of support that Marc needs.

“Last year we achieved the Investors in Pupils award which recognises the degree of pastoral care shown to pupils throughout the school and Dr McCann certainly would have been the person leading that project.

“It ties in with the ethos of the school and teachers here who are prepared to go the extra mile to support the needs of youngsters regardless of what the circumstances are.”

Marc, whose mum and dad are Ann-Marie and Malachy Comiskey, has two brothers Raymond and James.

He has an excellent sense of humour and reckons he could do stand up comedy.

Marc is well aware of his condition but regards himself as having a mild form of Asperger’s and comes across as a very polite and clever young man.

He knows the downside to his condition and openly admits he has issues but he is prepared to deal with them and with the help of his teachers and peers he has achieved very well at St Paul’s.

Though he claims to have a bit of a temper, Mr Flanagan said he would put it down to more frustration that temper.

“Marc has learned a lot over time at the school, different strategies, what works for him best and knows to take time out and calm down, to take time to explain his position and people will listen to him rather than get upset.”

Mr Flanagan said he was very proud of Marc. “He is an excellent pupil and shows tremendous commitment in the school and is a great role model indeed for other pupils.”

Mr Flanagan said it was very nice to have the recognition. “That teachers in our school are being recognised for going extra mile in relation to meeting the needs of youngsters and not just fulfilling the classroom teaching, teachers who recognise that the youngsters in front of them need a lot of support in many different ways apart from the learning process.

Mr Flanagan said: “It is lovely to see that you have somebody like Marc who recognises and appreciates. So many people say that young people take so much for granted nowadays but Marc by his nomination has shown that he recognises and appreciates the efforts that have been put in to help him by Dr McCann and others.”

Education Minister John O’Dowd who announced the award said: “Young people face many challenges growing up and it is reassuring that schools can provide support and help during difficult times in their lives.

“Exceptional pastoral care is not about the everyday support that schools offer but rather it is about those schools that go the extra mile. The numbers and quality of applications received shows that there are many excellent examples of outstanding pastoral care within our schools.

“All four winning schools demonstrated a whole school commitment and dedication to supporting pupils’ individual needs with those needs being put to the forefront of school life.”

The Derrytrasna Awards launched last year and are named in honour of St Mary’s Primary School, Derrytrasna who showed truly exceptional pastoral care to a terminally ill pupil, Adele Madden.

Whilst there is currently no nursery category, the nomination for Stanhope Nursery School made a strong case 
and the selection panel felt the school should be awarded a certificate to acknowledge the quality of pastoral care.

The inclusion of a nursery category may be considered for next year’s awards scheme it was said.