Rural community vows to fight to attract more families

Leitrim Observer Reporter

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Leitrim Observer Reporter

Rural community vows to fight to attract more families

Aughavas National School

A three-teacher rural school facing the prospect of losing a teacher in September is calling for the local community to rally together to bring new families into the community.
At a public meeting in St Joseph’s National School, Aughavas last Wednesday, school principal, Seamus Tiernan, said it was clear from the declining number of baptisms in the parish that the number of children available to attend the school was not at a level which will allow the school to retain a third teacher into the future.
“Unless something happens, unless we find a way to bring more children into the area, we will find it difficult to keep facilities at the same level into the future,” he said.
Aughavas is a small parish in the south of Leitrim. Like other rural areas it has no village or town but is a parish with a strong community spirit.
Like many rural areas it is suffering from the impact of emigration, a lack of local job creation and the inability of younger members of the community to get planning to build in their local area.
However, taking inspiration from the successful campaign held by the community of Kiltyclogher, Mr Tiernan said it is clear that, if there is a strong desire and the community is prepared to pull together, then it is possible to reverse decline.
At the moment there are 54 children in the school, but at the end of this school year eight students will be leaving for secondary level and only a handful of students are looking likely to enter the school at junior infants level. The situation will become even more difficult at the end of the 2019-20 school year as a further 12 students are set to leave.
The school has to retain at least 49 pupils to secure the future of the third teacher.
Challenges such as childcare and accommodating working parents who may have to travel to other towns for employment were all cited as reasons why some eligible children, are now being schooled outside the parish, but the bigger picture involves securing more students into the future.
Mr Tiernan said staff at St Joseph’s are fighting to retain the extra teacher but he stressed this is a “community wide” issue and there is only so much the school can do.
“We are no different to any other rural community but I believe we can do something to try and change things. What will we do? That is the question,” he said.
A number of suggestions were put forward at the meeting including:
l Conducting a survey of houses fit or nearly fit for habitation in the locality, with a view to getting a list of properties for rent or sale.
l Looking at the possibility of changing school starting times to allow parents to leave children to school earlier if they are working.
l Conducting research into the possibility of providing transport to after-school care in Carrigallen or Mohill and establishing the level of interest in availing of such a service.
l Looking into the costs and work required to provide an on-site after-school care facility if there is sufficient need and if the Board of Management agree.
l Looking at ways to market the school and showcase local facilities to attract more families into Aughavas and St Joseph’s.
A committee will now be formed to lead the campaign and to work on proposals to secure the future of the school's third teacher and the wider community.