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How parents are trying to raise €2 million on the internet to build a school in Clare

The parents at the Mol an Óige national school in Clare were hoping to get the money from the Department of Education – but instead they’ve turned to the internet.

All the students of the Mol an Oige school
All the students of the Mol an Oige school
Image: http://www.buildmolanoige.org/all-about-us/

THE PARENTS OF children at one Clare primary school don’t know the exact moment when they decided to turn to the internet for help.

The school, called Mol an Óige Steiner National School, had already come through more hurdles than most people had expected in its first few years.

When it started in 2005 in Ennistymon, the school had just 7 students in its first year. This year, it has around 120. The school is one of just three Steiner national schools in the country, which, as parent Stuart Woolley explains, means it uses non-traditional methods of teaching, focusing on oral work rather than textbook work for the first few years of education.

“The ethos of the school is the head, the hands and the heart,” says Woolley.

From small beginnings, it soon became clear that the school was in demand with local parents and children. This led to a new problem: space.

The Mol an Óige school is currently housed in six portable cabins, on land borrowed from a hotel in the area. As Stuart Woolley points out, the temporary nature and the size of the cabins means it’s impossible to have basics such as a cloakroom, principal’s office or any of the other facilities you’d expect to have in a school .

The recession has made things extra tough for schools. The Department of Education is going to spend €370 million building and improving schools this year alone – but the waiting list seems to grow all the time, even as new projects are finished.

The school has managed to buy a 6-acre site using a donation made several years ago, but like many schools, it lacks the money to actually build a permanent structure.

“The Department of Education has published a list of schools that will be built in the next five years and the school isn’t on it, so we know it’s going to be at least five years,” says Woolley.

We’d never be able to raise the money in the town –  Ennistymon only has about 800 people, so we’re trying to get more people to help.

Through a series of meetings, parents came up with a novel idea: crowdsourcing the €2 million needed to build the school through the internet.

“If we don’t try, we’ll never get it, so we said let’s give it a go and see if we can get enough people on board,” says Woolley.

The parents began their campaign at the start of March. They set up a website and a Facebook page and started to spread the word, hoping to rely on word of mouth to get the story of the school out there in the hopes that a lot of people will be motivated to donate a small amount of money through the site.

“We’re focusing on the idea that if one million people who hear about it gave just €2 each, this is possible,” says Woolley.

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The front gate of the school

Part of the reason the crowdsourcing idea came about was because the parents didn’t want to tread on the toes of the school by doing something like raffle sales, explains Stuart.

We concentrate on bigger things – the biggest thing we’re trying to do to get the word out.
Our idea is that €2 is how much people would spend on a coffee – it would be even more than that if they’re buying it in Dublin! – to build a school that will change the lives of generations.

The money isn’t the only challenge the school faces: although it was officially granted status as a national school in 2008 by the Department of Education, it was only on a temporary basis – which means the school has to apply every year to have its recogition as a school renewed.

“Inspectors have been in several times, the school continually passes the assessments, so we’re just waiting for the Department to say yes, you’re a school , and give us permanent recognition,” says Woolley. Parents have been petitioning Education Minister Ruairí Quinn to give the school permanent status.

The school has some way to go to reach the target: the website says it has raised almost €4,000 as of this week – meaning there’s some€1,996,000 to go to hit its target.

The parents are optimistic though.  ”We’ve set ourselves a deadline of twelve months because everything always has a final result,” says Woolley. “If we don’t have an end date it could just rumble on forever. By setting an end date we know what we’re aiming for.”

“It’s ambitious but we think we can do it.”

You can find out more about the Mol an Óige school plan on its website: www.buildmolanoige.org

Read: Teachers dispute Quinn’s claims on new €1.5 billion schools programme >

Read: Construction starts on eight new schools >

About the author:

Christine Bohan

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