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From North Wall to Trinity: 'My story is not unique - I've made it to college after putting the work in'

Some areas of Dublin get unfairly pigeon-holed as ‘disadvantaged’, writes Alex Fay, who recently started a degree at Trinity College.

Alex Fay

IT’S FRESHERS’ WEEK and as a science student I have a lot to do.

Register for my course, choose my modules, get my student card, join societies, make friends, figure out my timetable, and get a locker. Maybe if I can find the time, I’ll sit out on my balcony with my telescope and get some stargazing done; it would help considering I’d love to finish my degree with a specialisation in astrophysics.

But it’s not just the night sky that I know like the back of my hand.

Unlike my fellow freshers, I have a little bit of an ace up my sleeve. I’m one of few students who can claim to be a local Trinity student. The college has been a part of my natural habitat my whole life. With others hailing from Blackrock, Donegal, Connemara and even other countries, I think I have it pretty good living in the North Wall area (a ten minute walk away). However, there’s a lot of people and media outlets that mightn’t agree about that being ‘pretty good’.

It’s not breaking news that if you come from certain areas in Dublin you are considered ‘disadvantaged’. That’s a word that people in the North Wall, Ballybough, Tallaght and many other places are almost non-reactive to nowadays. It’s become overused to the point of having no meaning. It’s no longer appropriate. As a teacher of mine recently put it, ‘misrepresented’ is the right term.

People in the North Wall aren’t born less intelligent or less informed; there are no innate disadvantages. However, the onslaught of negative news articles and constant gossip stories in the tabloids has pinned certain areas such as mine down to just being known for what the media want you to know them for. The problems in my area and other areas, often highlighted in the media, happen in every area. There are negative occurrences every day in a wide variety of places. What the media fails to represent are the people, the families, the community.

‘It is something we have all worked hard to get’

With support from my family and teachers in St Laurence O’Toole’s and St Joseph’s (aka Joey’s in Fairview), I have been guided towards the path of further education with great enthusiasm and commitment. Throughout my life I have been surrounded by great science educators who have mentored me and pushed me to the best of my abilities. In Joey’s, with the help of some fantastic teachers I found success in debating science and took the school’s first ever All-Ireland in debating. With their help, I also took on all three science subjects for my Leaving Certificate. Last year on the Trinity Access Programme’s (TAP) foundation course, I had the help of an entire staff of tutors and lecturers who gave nothing but their best to see myself and my classmates do well.

Having completed a year with TAP, I have already gotten to experience college and acclimatise to the workload as well as the academic environment. It was a year where I got to try out many different areas of study before choosing to focus on science for the year and move forward to begin my degree course this year.

Being surrounded by like-minded people from similar backgrounds which are under-represented in higher education was a boost to my confidence. I would often think of something like this as a chance or opportunity, but it’s not. Just like anybody else, it is something we have all worked hard to get, it’s not luck. It is dedication to education. I was not born to settle on opportunities, I was born to get what I want with the work I put in.

My story is not entirely unique; it’s the same as any other fresher’s. Just like the thousands of other new students around Ireland, I’m going to college after putting the work in to get here. The only difference is that some people got here quicker and some will be getting here later. Thanks to strong communities and dedicated people like those in TAP, I’m certain that kids from the North Wall and other areas will soon be arriving here just as a quickly as any other kid.

Alex Fay is from North Wall and recently started a degree in science at Trinity College Dublin. He is the first person in his family to go to university. His story features in The Classroom Divide, a documentary about inequalities in the Irish education system, airing on RTÉ One this Monday 18 September at 9.35pm.

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