Siobhán Sheerin is the Deputy Principal of Beech Hill College in Co. Monaghan. Last year, Erasmus+ awarded the school €65,000 to organise a 24-month Erasmus+ School Exchange Partnership with a secondary school in Lithuania. Here Siobhan discusses the motivation for taking part in Erasmus+ and the importance of celebrating culture, language and heritage.
The original idea for this Erasmus+ School Exchange Partnership stemmed from a concern that the Lithuanian students who attend Beech Hill College felt they ‘didn’t belong at school’. In fact, some students even felt they were losing connection with their language and heritage.
With that in mind, Principal Patrick Mc Ardle contacted the Post Primary Languages Initiative in 2018. They subsequently connected Beech Hill College with a Lithuanian teacher named Kristina. Kristina is now teaching Junior Cycle and Leaving Cert Lithuanian in the school. As a result, students have the opportunity to embrace their native language and culture with a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher.
On November 25 last year, we welcomed three teachers and 11 students from Vilniaus Gabijos Gimnazija to Beech Hill College. The Lithuanian Ambassador to Ireland, Egidijus Meilunas, even joined to celebrate the official launch!
During the welcoming speech, students were reminded that Lithuanian history is, in many ways, similar to that of the Irish diaspora. As such, fostering connections, celebrating differences and acknowledging similarities is a key part of the ethos at the Co. Monaghan school.
“Beech Hill College strives to welcome all pupils, regardless of their background or faith. We want to build a school where all talents are recognised and where all students are encouraged to be the best they can be”.
From building robots to baking scones, the students enjoyed a wide range of activities over the course of their week together. Visitors also took part in Gaelic Studies, Coding, Science and Metalwork, and enjoyed playing handball and Gaelic football at lunchtime.
As a nod to the school’s visiting students, The Garage Theatre in Monaghan brought the trip to a touching end with a screening of the Lithuanian Language film ‘100 years together’.