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St Anne's Community College chaplain, Karl Torpey, who organised a farewell video for Leaving Certificate students. Photograph by John Kelly

St Anne’s Virtual Community Offers Support for Students

LIKE thousands of schools across the country, St Anne’s Community College in Killaloe remains closed in a bid to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. And while the 500-strong student body are following the new rules of social distancing and staying apart, they are coming together online to keep their spirits up and to avail of support and guidance in these challenging times.

School Chaplain Karol Torpey, who lives in Feakle, told The Champion that the school’s social platforms have come to fore in the current crisis. “Our Facebook page, Humans of St Anne’s Community College, is now operating as a virtual chaplain’s office. It’s a way of getting as much support and advice to people as possible and of gauging how people are feeling.”

The importance of staying apart in order to protect the vulnerable is one key message that the school has been promoting across its social channels: “We have been working hard to get the message of social distancing out to students. What I’ve done is to ask staff to send pictures of themselves doing this, and students are being asked to guess who the staff member is. That’s proving to be very popular. It’s something small, but it keeps people ticking over and the message is a really important one.”

Since taking up the role of chaplain over a year ago, Karol has been working to engage as much as possible with students who need support. “Chaplaincy is all about meeting people where they are, and nowadays – and particularly in these difficult times – they are online,” Karol noted. “When I moved home to East Clare and began working at St Anne’s, I requested that we get the Facebook page going and it’s proving to be a great resource at the moment. For teaching, there are a range of online tools being used to really good effect, and we are finding that both Facebook and Instagram are keeping us connected as a school community.”

One particular aspect of the crisis that has prompted many students to seek support, Karol explained, is the decision last month by the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, to cancel oral exams and award all students full marks. “A lot of pupils have been in touch about that,” Karol noted. “Views are very much divided. You have students who have been working really hard and set to do very well and you have others who haven’t been doing as much work. Now that they are all getting the same marks, there’s a mixed reaction. I have been sharing my own experience with students and reminding them that you cannot control anything in this world, except your own reaction to events. You could always have a situation where you have all the preparation in the world done and don’t perform well on the day of the oral exam, so at least you can say now that there is a level playing field.”

It is not just the students who have been seeking the support of the school chaplain. Parents too have been logging on for support. “What I would be seeing at the moment, for some parents, is that they’re getting to know their children as young adults for the first time,” Karol explained. “They’re getting to grips with the situation too. The changes are beginning to sink in for all of us. Normality and routine are gone and, for all of us, the world seems to be out of kilter, but we’re in this together and we’ll get through it together.”

At the moment, Karol is busy collecting baby photos of Leaving Cert students which will also form part of a ‘Guess Who?’ challenge.

“As chaplain, I get to share in all of the joys and sorrows and celebrations of the school community,” Karol said. “I would be putting together a graduation collage of photos around now, so we’ll put those online too.”

As the closures and restrictions continue, Karol is advising any member of the school community who needs advice or support to contact her through Facebook or Instagram or her school email address.

About Fiona McGarry

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Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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