Half the pupils at Bunscoil Cholmáin in Connemara are Ukrainian and the principal says she needs more language support teaching hours to live up to the Irish-only rule for junior classes.
As a participant of the Department of Education’s Gaeltacht School Recognition Scheme, it must immerse pupils in the Irish language for the first two years, with no English allowed.
Principal Róisín Ni Chualain, one of two teachers in the school, takes junior infants, where seven of the 12 pupils are from Ukraine. Some arrived in the early spring and formally started junior infants this month.
A couple of years ago, the school, in Muigh Inis, Carna, was facing closure, with enrolments predicted to drop to four this September, but the arrival of the Ukrainians breathed life into it.
With the new influx, local families were encouraged that the school had a future and more enrolments followed, bring the total to 18 at the moment.
“It’s great the school has stayed open because of the new kids. They are brilliant and young children that age can absorb anything.
“I remember the first day they arrived here on the bus and they didn’t know where they were and they were so young, and now they are thriving,” said the principal.
But she said the school needs more support while it integrates the new pupils, while also living up to its Irish language remit.
“The school has a language support teacher for three days a week but we really need a language support teacher for five days a week,” she said.
“They will learn Irish and they are learning Irish They are learning the words and they have the ‘cupla focail, but it we need to be able to give time. It is not easy when you are managing a class of four year olds.”
“If they are older, we can manage but when they are four or five, it takes a lot of time. The days when I have the language support teacher in the class, it is fantastic.”
The principal has appealed the language teacher allocation to the Department of Education and is awaiting a response.
This week, a great asset arrived in the Bunscoil Cholmáin in the form of the first Gaeilge –Ukrainain colouring book, aimed at young primary school age children.
The book, a co-production between Galway Regional Development and the parents’ group, Tuismeotheoiri na Gaeltacht, offers pupils, and their parents an at a glance translation of some key vocabulary, in a fun activity.
Michael Mac Donnchadh, who had the idea for the colouring book when he worked with Galway Regional Development, said it would allow children to interact with each other and then with the parents at home.
The book also has the QR code on the front, linking to an online sound file.
“It is great because IT IS Irish and Ukrainian. When I press play, it says the word in their native language, and then in Irish. There is no English in it,” said Ms Ni Chualain.
The Gaeilge text was translated into Ukrainian by an Irish speaking Ukrainian native Nadia Dobrianska.
Originally from Kiev, she never imagined she would end up not only living in Ireland but translating books from Gaeilge to Ukrainian .
“I first heard Irish at 14 and I fell in love with it. I’m from Kiev and I started learning there. I have now lived in Kiev, Cork and Belfast,” she said.
Sorcha Ní Chéilleachair, of Tuismitheoirí na Gaeltachta said it is a very special project. “It is very important for the integration of Ukrainian children into the Gaeltacht community and it also highlights the need for extra resources for Gaeltacht schools.”