Laptops, Light bulbs, Love and learning...fusing connections in Pres Bray

Date: 01 Feb 2017

Venue: Pres College Bray

Students from Presentation College Bray have been involved in an Energy Saving Project to mark Catholic Schools Week, and its focus on environmental issues, as per Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si.

The school's project includes artwork displayed around the school, designed by students Luca Pezillo O'Brien, Ciaran McKay and Jack Lawlor, in order to raise awareness about unnecessary energy usage, as well as a research project into whether the artwork has made a real difference to the school's energy use. 

Headed by art teacher Mr Rooney, the project is an exciting one, which has the potential to have a very real impact on the environment.

Mr Rooney spoke passionately about the project itself, calling it "an exemplar for the embodiment of the values underpinning a justice and value-based educational project."

Mr Rooney continued: "The construction of an educational program to meet the ends established through the PBST charter or indeed The Catholic Schools week is a difficult task. Unity, active compassion, solidarity, respect, community partnership, gospel values etc. are all worthy if not lofty aspirational ends. However, it may not be necessary to begin from scratch in the creation of an educational experience worthy of association with such lofty outcomes. After all, learning about compassion is far less powerful than experiencing it...

"With this approach to the exploration of how Catholic values can become embedded within the lifeblood of the educational experience, I would like to highlight a school-based project which at first may seem only obliquely linked to any overarching value system, if at all. The school is in the process of applying for an Energy Green Flag – the second of a five-tier system. The art department had been planning to align an extra-curricular based project with this theme for the purposes of proactive cross-curricular engagement. At this point, the concept of respect, caring for the community and our home became an implicit theme underlying further explorations.

"A first year student only beginning in the school with a real passion for character creation became known to the art department through discussion with colleagues. It became apparent to the art department that the whole school community could benefit from this students' skills. At this point, ownership over school, issues and project as a value became a potential component of the project.

"The art department developed a concept in conjunction with the student of a series of characters to represent energy use and abuse. These characters would be used to communicate messages around same. The student was teamed up with a TY student to inspire a more diverse outlook on the project and to pool skills and resources. Furthermore, intensive research around energy use in Ireland and indeed its implications in a global context – particularly within the paradigm of development-based issues was necessary to authentically open up and explore some of the more complex considerations. At this point an opportunity to embrace the concept of holistic and comprehensive education and of global interdependence became available, and indeed necessary.

"During the process of the creation of the characters, debate fueled further development and ideas which were open for expansion. The art department remained open to a truly student-led project allowing as much ownership as was desired and achieved by the students. Another TY student was brought in to compliment the skills of the team. At this point, flexibility on the part of the art department was paramount – the ability to respond to the evolving needs of the situation as it presented.

"When all ten characters were developed, the students proposed various outputs for their use. The students made written proposals to management around campaign awareness strategies with detailed costings included. At this point, the concepts of freedom and leadership among others are available within the educational experience. The students were being given the freedom to make their own robust proposals directly to management and required to show a level of leadership to achieve same.

"The students had at this point spent a considerable amount of time out-of-class and based in the art room engaged in independent learning. This comes with a cost. It is important that students and educators continually evaluate the benefit of a student's engagement in an extra-curricular pursuit against the loss to the student of class time. The flip side of this concern is the nurturing of the values relating to a respect for one's community and putting the good of the many above the good of the self. If the student is in charge of the end point and continually personally evaluating the feedback which they are receiving from the experience, they are implicitly engaged in the process of evaluation of altruistic endeavours.

"The students decided to create a series of tongue-in-cheek stickers – to sticker bomb the school, a series of posters to bolster the stickers and flyers to expand on the posters. The stickers and posters were placed around the school and the flyers are being sent out one per day (for 10 days) to each staff member so that they can explore the issues in a meaningful way with their students each morning. Furthermore, the flyers are being sent to parents via the school app for 10 days to expand our message into our wider school community. The information on the flyers comes largely from SEAI. The suite of artworks were then sent to SEAI who are now using them at one of their own events. At this point, community partnership is a real component of the project – both the wider school community and indeed the Energy community in Ireland.

"The empowerment nurtured through this open-ended and unfinished exploration to those engaged with it hopefully brings me to my final and maybe most important value; love. It is hoped that a love for one's community, one's peers, one's work and for oneself is implicit in the satisfaction felt through intense active engagement using ones skills for the benefit of others. To succeed and surpass one's expectations brings a joy unparalleled, a love of life and the diverse texture it comprises.

"It is my assertion that it is the attitudes and self-awareness of the people within which make a program of study – curricular or otherwise, embedded with gospel values', promoting community partnership or indeed promoting solidarity, respect, justice etc. Learning about the values vital to a Catholic ethos school is very much the second cousin to learning through them. I assert that designing a program of study, large or small, based upon any subject matter is open and available to the infusion of aspirational values, all we need do is look to ourselves and ask how we can use today to make our world a little better.

"It would not have been possible to achieve any of the goals or values outlined in this project without a hugely supportive learning support department, school management and an enthusiastic and energetic Green Schools Co-ordinator. Also key to this were Pat Gregory, Martin Locke, Stuart Hannon, Glenda Keeley and Jackie Cronin, with a special mention to Br. Ray who tirelessly promotes values of Justice, Compassion, Love and Respect."

You can see some of the artwork below and on our Gallery Page, while we also caught up with Jack and Luca, two of the students involved in the project. They gave a fascinating insight into the project, and you can listen to that here: PresBray.mp3