Deirdre Coyle has been a PAL with Gaisce for over 15 years and firmly believes the programme plays a huge part in the development of students who take part. She says, “It gets them outside their comfort zone. Let’s say for a shy, quiet lad the community section can be really challenging. So it gets them out there and if you are doing something voluntarily usually you have to communicate and mix and put yourself out there.”
In terms of the changes she witnesses in students who have taken up the programme Deirdre explains how there is a marked difference in each student, “The changes are huge. They really gain in confidence. There was one student who at the end of transition year had to describe his one defining thing from that year. He brought a swimming cap and goggles. He said that before he did Gaisce he didn’t know how to swim. At the end of it he was training to be a lifeguard.”
Deirdre believes that being a PAL has helped her development as a teacher and taught her so much, “It’s challenged me. I’ve had to do admin and organise hikes. I never hiked before I joined Gaisce as a PAL. It’s another dimension as well because the students see me in a different way. I’m not just here in the classroom. I’m out there with them in hiking boots, rain jacket and teaching them how to cook.”
A couple of years ago Deirdre introduced sign language as part of the Gaisce programme in conjunction with St. Joseph’s school for the deaf. Boys from St. Joseph’s school come to St. Declan’s and teach the students sign language. “With our boys it opens their world a little bit and opens their mind in to what’s out there and the challenges facing people,” says Deirdre.
When asked why other teachers should become a PAL Deirdre says, “I love it because you challenge yourself and you get to see another side of the kids. You get to know kids that you may not have gotten to know before. It is also nice to see the students developing in a way that’s not just school-related and it’s nice to see kids who may not be academic getting an opportunity to get out there and feel like they’ve achieved something.”
Having initially signed up as PAL when teaching with CBC Monkstown Deirdre moved to St. Declan’s in Cabra and found that the programme had not been introduced there. Now on average Deirdre has over 30 students who take part in Gaisce each year.
“I think it’s a great programme and the kids get a lot out of it. For every single one of them who does the Gaisce Award they’ll say there’s something that they would have never tried if they hadn’t taken up the programme”.
Deirdre is pictured above with some of her Bronze Awardee students.