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'It was incredible to witness': RTÉ documentary shows the power of the arts for young children

It follows the launch of the creative programme in Irish schools last year.

Mehek Hussain and Ciara O’ Shea
Mehek Hussain and Ciara O’ Shea
Image: Hugh Rodgers

THE IMPACT OF the arts on young children in Irish schools is explored in an RTÉ documentary tomorrow about a new creative programme.

The documentary looks at the roll-out of Creative Schools, a pilot project focusing on creativity and the arts in primary and secondary schools all around Ireland.

The scheme is about bringing creativity into the classroom across the curriculum, and is a Creative Ireland initiative funded by the Department of Education, Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Arts Council. 

Kim Bartley and Aoife Kavanagh, of Frontline Films, brought director Anna Rodgers and additional director Garry Keane on board to film the implementation of the programme at the different schools across the country. Rodgers told TheJournal.ie that they saw children blossom as they took part in the scheme – including children who had previously hated attending school.

5 Source: Hugh Rodgers

One of the schools Rodgers visited was the Presentation Primary School in Tralee, Co Kerry. “It was a really old convent building but inside it is such a modern representation of new Ireland because there are 23 nationalities in the school,” said Rodgers. “There is such a mix of students. The students themselves wanted to express something in their art project to do with diversity and give a message about prejudice.”

The students chose to hold a musical show with the theme of ‘breaking boundaries’. The ideas for the artistic events came from the children themselves. 

When it came to choosing the children to focus on for the documentary, Rodgers said they didn’t just want to focus on the young people who “always put their hands up”. They wanted to give opportunities to those who might not always be first in front of the camera.

They wanted to show that “everyone can be creative and everyone has a talent for something and has something to contribute”. 

Some of the schools decided to focus on a myriad of projects while other schools built towards one finale project. 

At Stepaside Educate Together, for example, they were really passionate about sustainability, and so decided to have a festival with a theme of sustainability. They brought in visiting artists to chat to the children as part of the process. 

“Most used the grants they had got to bring in visiting artists, which was fantastic because they got to meet people they wouldn’t get to meet otherwise,” said Rodgers of the schools.

Through the process they got to know some very interesting students, like Cuan Weijer (15). 

1 Cuan and his grandfather. Source: Hugh Rodgers

1. Cuan Weijer: Cuan is 15 and attends Stepaside Educate Together secondary school in Stepaside, Co. Dublin. Cuan loves Stepaside Educate Together having had some negative experiences in two previous schools he attended. Cuan is really embracing the Creative Schools project – he’s the Chairman of the Festival committee and is really enjoying organising the various events and activities leading up to festival day. Cuan was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and finds great relief from involving himself in creative activities.

We visit Cuan’s home in Glencree in Wicklow. When Cuan is at home he spends hours helping his grandad in his work shop – one of their favourite things to do together is fix old clocks.

“He had a difficult time in school, and had been diagnosed with aspergers. But he was thriving in Stepaside Education Together,” said Rodgers. “He was very happy, a big part was that he was getting invested in creative activities in his school. He was the chairperson on the creative council – it was such a brilliant example of how creativity in schools can be of benefit to young peope.”

Two students in another school told Rodgers that being able to take part in a dance and music show in school made them want to not miss school – they wanted to be in there every day.

5 Source: Hugh Rodgers

Another boy in the documentary told they on the first day that he hates school. “But then we filmed a workshop with poet John W Sexton, who comes from punk rock band background. He was teaching creative writing and poetry. His style was so arresting and almost shocking he was really quite loud and dramatic and very different to how a normal class would go,” said Rodgers. They watched as the boy who hated school became “the one with the hand shooting up for every question”.

“It was an incredible thing to witness,” said Rodgers. “He just really needed to find something he was interested in.”

Witnessing moments like this showed her that “this is really having an effect” on the children. “Children should enjoy school and be happy, and it’s sad if their school days are filled with pressure and stress,” said Rodgers.

The idea with the documentary was also to show how the arts can enable children to learn transferrable skills that would help them outside the class. “They might have learned to stand up in front of class and talk and do public speaking,” said Rodgers. “All these skills like public speaking and being able to create a project together as a group. We need these skills as an adult but so much time is present on individual study and individual work.”

Psychological benefits

Rodgers described the documentary as “very heartwarming”. “I hope that people take away the message that the arts isn’t for the elite, that it’s for everyone and that there’s huge value to spending time doing creative projects,” said Rodgers.

“And you’re not wasting time,that it shouldn’t be an add-on, that it should be part of everyday life and everyday school life and that creative life has huge benefits psycological benefits for young people. They get to grow and develop and work together on something.”

Creative Kids followed five schools over the course of the academic year as they implemented the Creative Schools project and encouraged their pupils to think about the arts and creativity in a whole new way.

The five schools featured are: Presentation Primary School, Tralee, Co. Kerry; Stepaside Educate Together Secondary School, Stepaside, Co. Dublin, St. Patricks De La Salle Primary school, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Presentation Primary School, Warrenmount, Blackpitts, Dublin 8 and Scoil Athphoirt primary, Arranmore island, Co. Donegal.

Creative Kids airing on Sunday 3 May on RTE. It follows a pilot project Creative Schools focussing on creativity and arts in primary and secondary schools all around Ireland.

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