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TY makes a difference

belvedere_01b.jpgOliver Murphy (pictured) was appointed as Transition Year Co-ordinator and Year Head at Belvedere College in the summer of 2007. Now, just fourteen months into the job, he reflects on the year with some amazement. The students of Transition Year 2007-8 have performed ballroom dancing in the Helix before a crowd of 1000 spectators, cycled on a pilgrimage across the snow-capped mountains of Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, dived under the surface of Killary Harbour, skied on the slopes of Mont Blanc, made their own electric guitars, driven cars at Mondello, cooked Chicken Marango and chocolate brownies. More importantly they have grown in so many ways. Read Oliver’s report below: They have seen that they can make a difference to the lives of others: especially the elderly or children with special needs. Some have helped out by teaching English to immigrants as part of our TEFL programme. Others have given up their afternoons to lend a hand at The Belvedere Youth Club – all helped by the €40,000 raised for the club by the Santiago cyclists. A few took part in a marvellous scheme to teach animation at Rutland Street National School, making the young pupils there so proud to see their own cartoons in action. Others brought soup to the homeless of Dublin. Everyone in TY has taken steps towards an understanding of what is important in this life.

belvedere_02b.jpgSchool life these days is rushed. Teachers queue up for the photocopier, download materials from the internet, hurry to class, then to another, then to the staff-room to correct and prepare, grab a quick coffee and off again. The life of the student is governed by bells, timetables, homework schedules and exams. We are all in a bit of a hurry – to be prepared, to have our work done, to be at the right place at the right time, to do as well as possible.

So isn’t it a good thing to give one year over to learning at ease? This is the way education should be: when students can choose what they want to study, where the pupils do a good deal of the research and presentation themselves, where much of the learning is fun, where teachers try new ways of teaching, where a lot of the education takes place out of the classroom. For example, the Transition Year Graduation Ceremony 2008 was planned, organised and run by a group of twenty-four students – and they did a fantastic job.

Our students spend six weeks in Work Experience or Community Care Placements. They go through a preparation course beforehand and an afternoon of reflection when they come back. I have been astonished by some of their wisdom. One student said, “I used to think that the greater the handicap a person had, the less the rest of us should bother. Now, I think the opposite is true. The worse the handicap, the more we should invest our time and our money to help.” Another Transition Year student was helping a young person with her Maths. He discovered that when he showed an interest, and encouraged the girl along the way, she made far greater progress. He was astonished that his input could be crucial. One other student recounted how on his last day working with a group of young people with special needs, one of the kids held his hand. The supervisor told him that he was the first person the child had ever trusted in this way – and this meant a lot to him.

St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” In Transition Year we are trying to help our students to take on the ways of adulthood: to be self-motivated, independent learners, to solve their own problems, to become more outward-looking, and – most dangerous of all – to get to know themselves better and (we hope) to like what they see.

Those who complain that Transtion Year is a doss year just don’t get it. I have seen a group of young boys emerge after one year into responsible, articulate, self-confident, considerate young men. That, for me, is proof enough that Transition Year is a key part of the Irish education process. I hope it is here to stay.