Grace and Finn on their first day in Ms. Bradley's class at Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Letterkenny Pictures: Brian McDaid
For two schools in Letterkenny, the return of their pupils for the new school year proved a little bit more special than normal back in September.
Scoil Cholmcille National School and Scoil Mhuire gan Smál are now both co-ed schools, which means that girls and boys can attend both.
Up until this year, only boys attended Scoil Cholmcille while for a long number of years, Scoil Mhuire gan Smál has been an all-girls school.
At that start of the school year, staff and teachers at both schools welcomed a new intake of pupils, with many local families availing of the opportunity to send their sons and daughters to the one school.
Scoil Cholmcille marked their move to ‘co-ed’ by planting a beech tree in the school grounds at the end of the last school term, to signify strength and longevity.
Ms. Mulhall with Jakub and Eva on their first day at Scoil Cholmcille in Letterkenny
The school also unveiled two “buddy benches” to show how much friendship is valued in the school.
This year, there were 60 new infants at Scoil Cholmcille, and of that total, 30 were girls.
There are girls too in senior infants, third and fourth class and school principal, Paraig Cannon said the change has been extremely positive.
“Now that we are a few months into the school year, I can say that it has worked very well,” he said.
“It’s a massive change and the school has been the big winner. Even just optically, to see boys and girls in the school yard, it’s a sign that the school has moved into the 21st century with a new, fresh approach.
“It has been a positive change for everyone and the convenience for families to have boys and girls at the school is also very welcome.
“Now because people have seen how this has worked, we hope that it will encourage other parents to consider sending their daughters to us next year as well.”
It’s a similar story just up the road at Scoil Mhuire gan Smál which over the years has always been known as ‘the girls school’.
School principal, Irene Simmons, described the arrival of 17 boys into junior infants classes as a seamless change for everyone.
“A lot of the boys have siblings at the school, or their parents were past-pupils and it suited them to attend Scoil Mhuire,” Ms. Simmons explained.
“There hasn’t been a noticeable difference which is probably the best way of saying that the boys’ arrival at the school has been very smooth and without any problems which is just great.
“We’re delighted with how it has gone and the children and their families are also happy.
“We had two former pupils who are now parents and they both now have their sons at the school. The two mums were in the same class when they were here, and now their sons are sitting in the same class which is something that neither expected would ever happen.”
Ms. Simmons said next September, the school will welcome a new batch of boys as part of their Junior Infants classes and the plan is that within eight years, the school will be fully co-educational with boys in every class from Junior Infants up to sixth.
For both schools, the staff and pupils are now well used to the changes.
And it's generally felt that a co-ed school has so many more advantages for the development of a child than an 'all-boys' or 'all-girls' system.
Even the schools' nativity plays this Christmas took on a change of significance when for the first time ever, a girl could play the part of Mary at Scoil Cholmcille; and a boy could play the part of Joseph at Scoil Mhuire.
A little bit of history in a year of much change for primary school education in Letterkenny.