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School teaches hope in a bid to help mental health

Holy Cross teacher Claire Doherty-McGarrigle, with Marie Dunne and Cathal McShane, presents Gemma Penny with her Schools for Hope certificate. DR53

A LOCAL secondary school is pioneering the way children are being taught by creating a subject on hope.

Holy Cross College is the first school in the north to complete the Schools for Hope Programme, a new curriculum project based on research that suggests hope is a teachable skill.

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The aim of the project is to equip students, educators, and parents with the tools they need to find and maintain hope, even during the most trying of times.

In recent days  Year 9 pupils enjoyed a graduation ceremony held at their school in front of family and staff after each of them successfully participated and completed the School of Hope project.

Claire Doherty-McGarrigle an English teacher and learning mentor at Holy Cross was instrumental in running the innovative pilot scheme in the school.

“Schools for Hope, is about combating mental health before it becomes a problem,” said Mrs Doherty-McGarrigle.

“Eighteen pupils from Year 9 were selected because we felt this programme would help teach them how to deal with obstacles. The head of Year 9 and a classroom assistant were also trained up to help deliver the programme.

“Originally the programme began in America, but obviously because our curriculum is different to theirs we had the scope to put our own unique twist on things.”

For ten weeks the pupils took two hours out on a Friday to participate in the project, which was validated by the Ulster University and involved a variety of agencies such as CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), SureStart Strabane, Youth Services and the Education Authority.

“Hope,” added Mrs Doherty-McGarrigle, “is a skill we can all learn. We can teach our pupils how to find pathways to hope, no matter what the experience and that is something which will now be embedded in our school curriculum.”

Marie Dunne, a mental health proportion specialist with the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) who initiated the project said,

“Holy Cross is the first school to come through the programme and we are now equipping children with skills for life.

“Hope is a teachable subject,” she added, “Just as we need oxygen for the body, we need hope for the mind.”

Speaking after the ceremony principal of Holy Cross College Maria Doherty said, “ We are very privileged to be a pilot school  for this fantastic programmes.

“We welcome the input from all the outside agencies and each student involved will benefit from it immensely.”

Despite not having a budget for the programme, Mrs Doherty emphasised that she will be prioritising the programme within the school for
the years ahead.

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