Léargas is a not-for-profit organisation, wholly owned by the Department of Education and Skills, and its Board is appointed by the Minister. It was established to support international exchange and collaboration in the youth sector, mainly through the medium of European Commission-funded education and training programmes.
One of these programmes is the Erasmus+ which is the European Union programme for education, training, youth and sport for the years 2014 to 2020. It provides funding and support for organisations to operate projects consistent with its objectives and which encourage European exchange, co-operation and learning. Erasmus+ is funded by the European Union through the contributions of member states, including Ireland.
Erasmus+ aims to modernise and improve the quality of teaching, training and youth work across Europe, and to support the development, transfer and implementation of innovative practices. These objectives are closely tied with the Europe 2020 strategy of achieving a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy by 2020 for all of Europe’s citizens. Fundamental goals for Erasmus+ include improving key competences and skills, and fostering partnerships between education and employment. The programme also seeks to promote European values as stated in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union: respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
This year 19 students and 5 teachers from St. Mary’s College have been accepted on an Erasmus+ programme and over the coming 18months will be working in close cooperation with four other schools from across Europe to complete their project. The other schools involved are situated in Germany, France, Spain and Romania and each will be working on different aspects of the project entitled ‘Bien dans son corps, bien dans sa tête, bien dans son avenir’ or, in English, ‘Healthy in your body, healthy in your head, healthy in your future’. The project’s immediate aims are directed at fostering a sense of cooperation and fellowship amongst the students involved, and obviously in promoting a view for healthy living.
The project will involve visits by the St. Mary’s students to each of the participating countries to explore aspects of their educational practices, and to establish a link with their fellow students from each of the cooperating countries. Planning for the project is on-going, with the first major aspect occurring in January 2016 when 20 representatives from each school will visit Galway for a six day learning experience. They will be hosted by the College and will be participating in a series of events around Galway city and county.
At a special reception in the College the organising teachers met with the parents of the students chosen and outlined what would be happening over the foreseeable future.
First Mobilitie January 17th – 22nd 2016
Groups started arriving into the College around seven, as one by one each contingent became acquainted with their rooms and dorms. First impressions of Mary’s as seen lit up by those walking up the driveway were that it was like Hogwarts…a big impressive castle! By midnight everyone was fed and well settled, except our Romanian visitors who were, luckily, still en route. Luckily? Well, they had left their school early on Sunday morning, leaving plenty of time to reach their flight in Bucharest. However, the weather had other ideas, and after two attempts to get through snow covered passages in the Carpathian Mountains they deserted that idea for a train. However, even that was stopped by snow for a while, and the combination of all these factors left them having to dash headlong through the capital in a fleet of taxis. Arriving at the airport after the gates had closed they had to try all sorts of persuasive ploys to get them to hold the plane and let them on, much to the chagrin of the other passengers who then had to wait an extra hour before departure!! Eventually arriving in Dublin they then found they had missed their bus and had to wait another hour…but all journeys have a silver lining and it all ended well when the Citylink bus driver went beyond the call of duty to leave them right to the gates of the College at 4am. There Mr.Lennon saw them securely to their destination after their long and arduous journey.
After breakfast at eight all five groups, totalling …, and a few translators from our student body, met for the opening speech from Mr. Ciaran Murphy. He welcomed everyone, and then Maik Lumpp, Andre Titilencu, Remy Corbiere, Diego Brulhe, and Pablo Garcia welcomed each of the groups in their own language. Afterwards, each group was given an extensive tour of the College, pointing out all the various facilities. Safe to say they were a bit gobsmacked at what we have to offer our students.
After the break everyone headed to the small gym, where they participated in ‘getting to know you’ games designed to break the ice, and get all the students communicating in whatever language worked best! After a sumptuous dinner provided by Radek and his kitchen staff everyone again gathered, were divided into three groups, Shannon, Liffey and Corrib, and were introduced to the joys of Gaelic Games. Mr. Dempsey set up a hurling match amongst his first years to demonstrate the beautiful game, allowing our visitors to experience the feel of the ash. Mr. Lennon and his volunteers showed the basics of Gaelic Football and Handball, while Mr. Carey showed a video which incorporated the best of men’s and women’s football and hurling, and handball.
That evening we gathered in the conference room to watch the first two short videos produced by each group. First up was Jakub and Alex with their short depicting a day in the life of a Mary’s student. This was followed by the French presentation. Both videos were greeted warmly. Next up was a session of board games, which saw a lot more mixing by each of the groups, and some really interesting games! Tired, and enthusiastically, everyone went off to bed to prepare for the activities to follow next day.
After breakfast on Tuesday the group was split into three groups for activities during the course of the day. The first of the groups started work on the great Erasmus+ wall mural, one that was to be displayed in the school as a memorial to our successful exchange. Up in the art room the French art teacher coordinated the activity as all the students got to grips with the acrylic paints needed. Meanwhile, another of the groups departed to the dance room and learned a Romanian folk dance, amidst plenty fun and laughter. The third group drew the short straw and headed off for some Irish classroom experience. However, after the small break the positions were reversed as the groups swapped around and each got to try the earlier activities.
In the afternoon the entire group hit Galway city for a spell of ‘Geocaching’, or in simple terms they had a huge treasure hunt around the city. This was a first opportunity for many of the visiting students to get to see around the city, and many photographs and group selfies were taken to commemorate the fact! The evening saw the final three six minute videos from Romania, Germany and Spain after which there was a lot more bonding over board games.
Breakfast bright and early and then everyone piled on to our buses to head off to Connemara. Unfortunately, the weather had conspired to close off the top loop of Diamond Hill so alternative arrangements were quickly made. It was decided to go instead to go and take the Mameen trek, and this proved very popular. The rain held off and the entire group, plus a few stragglers under the guise of ‘interpreters’, made their way merrily over 14 km of Connemara terrain. After numerous encounters with rocks, moss, heather and French sheep a tired and well exercised bunch arrived back to the College, and once well fed and watered by Radek and his crew in the kitchen, they settled down to watch some films in each of the College ‘Cinemas’ (or IT rooms) .
With very few complaints of sore and tired limbs the group prepared for another action packed day in the College. Once again the three groups split up and headed off to do their various activities. Once more it was painting the mural, and classes, and also this time some of the groups served their time creating a song about the week.
The afternoon was equally busy as the group were entertained by musicians from Maoin Cheol na Gaillimhe who wowed them with their excellent guitar playing. After this the song group presented the fruits of their labour to much appreciation, and then everyone combined their creative talents to design a logo that best described the mobility.
The small gym was the scene of a giant ceili in the evening. Dancers from the Hession School of Irish Dancing put on an impressive display for all present and then stepped into the crowd to help organise them and lead them in a huge Siege of Ennis. Much appreciation for the hard work and skill of the Irish dancers was noted as students and teachers alike proceeded to fall over their feet on numerous occasions before hammering out a decent few steps.
The last day! A drama workshop organised by Conor Geoghegan saw each of the groups being put into diverse scenarios and having to mime and act their way out of them. This very actuve workshop was well appreciated by all but was cut short as we all departed for the church for a special audience with the Mayor of Galway City, Mr. Frank Fahy. It was also an opportunity to thank everyone for their participation over the week and to look forward to the next stage of the exchange. Mary’s students thanked everyone fluently in their own language, and this was reciprocated by representatives of each of the visiting groups, whose students displayed their excellent English language skills. Mary’s coordinator Maura Geoghegan thanked everyone and presented the Mayor and each of the visiting groups with a commemorative book detailing the history of the College. The mayor then said a few words, pointing out the value of such exchanges as Galway attempts to become the European City of Culture 2020. He then posed for a few group photographs before heading to see the finished Erasmus+ mural which now hung proudly on the College wall.
After lunch, with all bags packed and ready to go for the French and Romanian groups, the students participated in a huge table quiz featuring questions from each of the five countries. It was surprisingly competitive as each group tried their best to work out such questions as for instance what is the literal translation of ‘uisce beatha’! The winners received their prizes and then that was that. The entire group gathered in the front hall for a last bout of selfies, high fives, exchange of addresses and more than a few tears. The French were first to hit the high road home, with calls of ‘a bientot’ ringing in their ears…roll on the end of February.