Tonye Benson Olatunde, Board Member, Places of Sanctuary, and TUS VP for Student Education and Experience and chair of the TUS University of Sanctuary committee Frances O’Connell are pictured with students from Mercy Secondary School, Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath. Photo credit: Freddie Greenall.

Local school becomes first secondary school in Westmeath to receive Champion School of Sanctuary Designation

Mercy Secondary School Kilbeggan has been granted official status as a Champion School of Sanctuary, making it the first secondary school in Co. Westmeath to hold the designation.

The Champion School of Sanctuary award is an official recognition from Places of Sanctuary Ireland and attests to how schools work to symbolise and realise an inclusive, welcoming and safe space for all pupils and their families, especially newcomers who come from refugee and migrant communities and other ethnic minorities, including the Traveller community.

As well as celebrating diversity and inclusion, through activities and events in the school and the local community, these schools consistently build knowledge and understanding among the students and the staff about tackling racism and prejudice and about the nature of forced migration.

Students and staff representatives from the school collected their award at a ceremony held at the Technological University of the Shannon’s (TUS) Athlone campus on Friday last.

St Nathy’s College in Ballaghadereen, Co. Roscommon, and Naas CBS, Co. Kildare, also received Champion School of Sanctuary awards at the ceremony.

Speaking at the ceremony, TUS’s VP for Student Education and Experience and chair of the TUS University of Sanctuary committee Frances O’Connell said: “The ideals set forth by the Sanctuary initiative of welcoming, supporting, including, and celebrating asylum seekers and refugees are writ large into the fabric of our young, inclusive, and diverse technological university, and we are delighted to see Mercy Kilbeggan, Naas CBS and St Nathy’s College, who share our commitment to welcome and inclusion, receive this well-deserved recognition.”

An ideal place for the ceremony, TUS is, itself, a University of Sanctuary, a designation it was awarded last year; it is the first technological university in Ireland to hold this designation.

Under this University of Sanctuary designation, TUS has rolled out a three-year plan to help improve access to higher education for those seeking sanctuary in Ireland, as well as to promote intercultural awareness among staff, students and the wider community.

TUS provides 20 sanctuary scholarships per year, ten to students pursuing a full-time CAO course and ten to students embarking on the TUS Access programme.

Programme manager of Schools of Sanctuary Ireland ,Karen Dervan, congratulated the three schools: “These schools were champions of inclusion and welcome before they ever became a Champion School of Sanctuary. But it gives us as an organisation the greatest joy to officially welcome them into our network and family of sanctuary and to celebrate their incredible dedication. They will undoubtedly inspire others to follow in their footsteps.”

Schools of Sanctuary Ireland is supported by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, the Community Foundation of Ireland and other generous philanthropic donors.

Its mission is to work with schools all throughout Ireland, at primary and post-primary level, to support them to embrace their role in equipping students with the education and ethos to build an inclusive and equitable future for all.