by Mairéad Duggan
“We are still here for you!” These were the first words posted by our wonderful JCSP Co-ordinator in Microsoft Teams in our online School Library Team. We are still here for you! It seemed like the most important thing to say. We had ventured into the unknown – a journey of remote school librarianship alongside our online teaching. “We are still here for you!” and we felt it intensely as the dark threat of Covid19 loomed over our country. This was our heartfelt message to our students and the first milestone on this journey was posting about our Life in Lockdown Living History Project which we intended to publish with their help.
We are still here for you
Four years ago, in Mount Carmel Secondary School, during the centenary of the 1916 Rising, we published a book, ‘1916-2016 – How We Remember.‘ Many of our staff, students and management participated, becoming published authors for the first time. As every Department was eager to celebrate a momentous occasion in Irish History, we decided to come together as a school to commemorate the 1916 Rising. The whole school got involved and with the help of some funding from Dublin City Council, we published a glossy 1916 themed book entitled How We Remember. With stunning artwork, creative writing, photographs and sketches, the students endeavoured to celebrate an important milestone in Irish history. Four years later, we find ourselves living through another such milestone.
Amidst echoes of the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913, the Great Lockdown of 2020 has seen our teachers and students locked out of their school buildings for the foreseeable future. With schools closed in extraordinary times and students unlikely (hopefully) to ever see such times again, the JCSP and Librarian teams decided to document the time by initiating a living history project, inviting students and staff to document their experiences through the written word, poetry, diary entries, art, sketches and photographs. Linking in with other engagement activities, challenges, competitions etc. across our JCSP library community, we are collecting, collating, and editing a selection of eclectic responses.
Via the Zoom arena that hosts our current staff meeting, we asked all our teachers to guide and encourage their students to create and submit their work for this publication. We are encouraging teachers, SNAs, school management, caretaking and secretarial teams to contribute some material outlining their experiences. We also hope to encourage some past students to contribute to this shared experience. Parents who are experiencing the lockdown in the local community will also be asked to participate. Our Home Economics Department may help us with our section on Quarantine Cuisine – particularly the ever popular banana bread. As teachers have set assignments and edited some work, our students’ literacy development is evident. Visual literacy is also enhanced as students are encouraged to represent visually what the pandemic represents to them. Most importantly though, the project is working to enhance a sense of connection and wellbeing across the school community.
Implemented at a time where across the board in all schools, there is a problem with a lack of student engagement, this is a project which has begun to capture the students’ imagination primarily because it is not prescriptive and therefore taps into their natural creativity. We hope that encouraging students to share their experiences in the way in which they are most comfortable, will lead to a living history project which will serve as a time capsule for many years to come.
This project is still in its infancy, and yet the honesty and integrity of the written and visual responses so far has been awe-inspiring. Heroic teachers are encouraging, wheedling and gently pushing some of the more disengaged students. The librarians and the JCSP Co-ordinator are collating and organising all the responses. All students who submit a piece get an individual response outlining our gratitude and appraising the work they have submitted. A lot of critical thinking was displayed in the creation of these submissions and the emotional depth and even comic value of student responses has been inspiring for us. The JCSP and Library Teams offer feedback, along with help and support through individual messaging to participating students. Direct messages to students struggling with the weight of social isolation will be sent encouraging them to participate,
We would like to see as many students participate as possible. We are living through History. We are living through extraordinary times that hopefully none of us will see again in our lifetimes. As a school community, we would like to have a record of these strange times to record their historical value for future generations of our students. We would like to encourage creativity and publish our young authors and illustrators for a wider audience. But most importantly, as we embark on this endeavour, we would like our students to know “we are still here for you.”