Planting for the future in the Derg Valley

DERG Valley Shared Education Partnership has been working together now for six years and COVID-19 was not going to stand in their way of continuing this work - even if it was more distanced than usual!

The partnership, which comprises of Castlederg High School, Killen, St Caireall’s, Ardstraw-Jubilee, St Joseph’s Primary and Langfield Primary Schools’, used the theme of 'The Great Outdoors' to establish a Forest School within the grounds of each school.

Another aspect of the project involved the planting of trees within the grounds.

Forest Schools’ don’t have to exist in the deep dark woods, they can be in any outdoor space, even if there’s just one tree.

Mrs Moore, Castlederg High School’s Shared Education co-ordinator explained: “Forest Schools are still a relatively new concept in Northern Ireland, particularly at post primary level.

"The ethos of a Forest School is based on allowing young people to work in an outdoor space for an extended period of time, whatever the weather.

"It helps to promote self-esteem, confidence, independence and creativity, and of course has an added positive impact on mental health.

"Learning experiences can be more memorable when taken outdoors, where natural materials, sights, sounds and smells all help capture moments and of course learning."

All schools within the partnership are fortunate to have extensive grounds, which easily can be used for such outdoor lessons.

The trees are intended to be a symbol of the work already completed by the partnership over the past six years, and the commitment to continue this work for many years to come.

Over the winter months, the trees were planted at each school.

Unfortunately, current restrictions meant that the schools had to complete this task individually, but felt that it should still be a shared experience as far as possible.

Susan Wilson, principal of Castlederg High School, added: "We are delighted to be involved in such a positive and productive shared education partnership and we would like thank all our partner schools for their participation.

"Our pupils enjoyed every minute of planting these trees in the autumn when we were in school, a mixture of copper beeches, acers and chestnuts trees.

"While it was a shame we were not able to bring all pupils in the partnership together to carry out the planting, the spirit in which they were planted was not at all lost on all the pupils.

"They understood the project was symbolic of looking towards a better future for us all, where we work together to build a better understanding of each other and put emphasis on the importance of caring for our environment.

"The trees are a permanent symbol of the hope of the young people for their bright future and is made all the more significant, knowing they have been planted during this time of crisis.

"We look forward to seeing them grow and flourish – just like the young people who planted them. Well done to all staff and pupils involved."

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