Helen St. Helen

Photo: helen smile. Helen St.Helen is from Cleveland Ohio in The United States of America. Her roots and heritage take in everything from The Green Isles of Ireland to the lands of Mongolia. She's a bit of a mix with her father's side being of Irish and Cherokee Indian and her mother's side is Hungarian, Serbian, German and Mongolian. Helen is currently studying Engineering at Marion Technical College in Marion Ohio. She loves to learn and she's also currently learning Irish and Classical Fiddle. Helen enjoys sports and loves music of all kinds. She's been doing interviews with people across the vast spectrum of Irish/Celtic Culture, everything from music, dance, theater, and the arts, and will be sharing these with us on her blog.

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Wednesday 10 Oct 2012

My Interview with Paul Caskey of the Integrated Education Fund

""Helen St.Helen talks to Paul Caskey from the Integrated Education Fund about the history of integrated education in Northern Ireland and the work of the Fund…

Northern Ireland has certainly seen its share of very dark times. But through that darkness are rays of light. The first school to integrate children together started at a very dark period in Northern Ireland’s history. In 1981, the first school Lagan College was opened to bring children of different religious backgrounds, whether Protestant or Catholic, together. They started out with only 28 students and now have 1,100 students and the number is growing. But for years the schools struggled through. Then in 1992, the Integrated Education Fund was created to help with financial needs to help with growth and development.

Though the work of the Integrated Education Fund, the schools have grown across Northern Ireland. But, of course, the struggle still continues though not as bad. My conversation with Paul Caskey was indeed both eye opening and incredibly interesting. I must say it was a real learning experience, which I hope the readers will also find as well.

Hopefully one day these differences we have won’t matter, we can look at each other and see the whole person. Perhaps in some ways it’s like Dr.Martin Luther King said at the end of his speech “I have a Dream”, “And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:  Free at last! Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Thank you so very much Paul for taking the time to do this interview I greatly appreciate it and have learned so very much! So please enjoy the interview.

Also for I’m sure the Integrated Education Fund would love to have you visit their website at http://www.ief.org.uk/ and you can be their friend on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/IntegratedEducationFund



(Helen) “So Paul how did the IEF get its start?”

(Paul) “Well the IEF was started in the early 1990s. We were created as a charitable foundation to support growth and development of integrated schools in Northern Ireland. The first school that opened was back in 1981, which was in a very dark time in our history right in the middle of the conflict during the hunger strike period as well by the IRA. So it was a very difficult time in Northern Ireland when the first school opened. And they struggled along with the schools that followed them for a number of years to get the full funding, and we were created in 1992 to be a charitable foundation to support the growth and development of such schools, because there were financial needs that weren’t being fully met by the government at that time.

(Helen) “So it was actually difficult for the IEF to get its start then?”

(Paul) “It was difficult; I think what happened at that time, Helen, was there were a couple of major charitable foundations that were supportive of parents in Northern Ireland who wanted to educate their children together. So, therefore, the idea of bringing the foundations together and discussing the need to have a locally-based foundation was why the IEF was created. And I don’t think our creation was as difficult as the situation that the parents and the schools found themselves in, and that’s really why we needed to come into being in the 1992 to support them.”

(Helen) “So the idea, and please correct me if I’m wrong on this, was to unite Protestants and Catholics?”

(Paul) “Absolutely, the whole essence of Integrated Education was about educating our children across our traditional divide. And as you say that would be the Protestants and Catholics communities. It was normal in Northern Ireland and still is normal that children attend separate schools, from the age of 3 or 4 so from their Kindergarten or what we call here pre-school education, right up to the age of 18. It’s normal that Protestants and Catholics don’t go to the same schools and for us it’s quite logical if the children don’t meet at school and get to learn about each other, experience each other’s different traditions and backgrounds then they grow up knowing less about the other community and that cannot be good for society. I think the integrated schools have demonstrated that you can educate children together from whatever religious background or no religious background in a way that works.”

(Helen) “Wow, that’s amazing.”

(Paul) “Well, it’s something that a lot of people here feel very strongly about and I think one of the saddest things is that our political leaders, because they represent either side of the community largely, our political leaders have not got behind the idea of children being educated together. And that has made it difficult, it’s put a lot of obstacles in our path, but we’re slowly beginning to see that change now which is encouraging.”

(Helen) “So are you receiving a lot of support?”

(Paul) “I think as a foundation we receive support here at home, from local people, from business people, also from people who come from Northern Ireland who’ve moved outside of the country now. We have supporters in London and we have supporters in America, through the American Ireland Fund and through organizations like the Irish American Partnership and I think they have seen the logic and the benefit of children being educated together at the same schools and how that can play a very positive contribution to Northern Ireland today. And we have to remember too that we’ve come a long, long way. I mean our conflict is largely over, but we still have a very divided, segregated community. And education along with other issues such as housing remains deeply divided, and we want to see that change. We’re not naïve, we know it’s going to take some time Helen; it’s not going to happen overnight. But we believe we’ve got to keep working at it, and most importantly for us we believe it’s the will on the ground, of people, of ordinary people, of ordinary parents and children who see this as the way forward. And it’s up to our Politicians; I believe to support them in that process.”

(Helen) “When I was younger, I was raised Protestant, Seventh-day Adventist, I went to a Catholic school for quite some time, because my father thought it was a good idea to get to know other religious backgrounds as well. And you know it was very interesting and I learned a lot and the people there where very nice. It was interesting. I felt bad for the Catholic kids because every time they got on the bus after school they would get teased by the other kids and then when I went to the Catholic school I got teased as well. So I got the idea of how things were. It put me in that position to be more understanding.”

(Paul) “Well I think in my own experience as a parent, I have 3 children, my eldest child who is in an integrated primary school in Belfast. And I see the experience that he has in contrast to my own growing up here, in so far as he has classmates who come from all different religions. He has many friends that come from a Catholic background, and it’s quite normal for him a diverse range in the classroom and he doesn’t see that as different. He sees that as normal, I see it as different, but he sees it as normal. The fact that some of his friends are celebrating their first Holy Communion or being prepared for their sacraments through the school there’s nothing exceptional about that for my son. And he’s getting to experience that, appreciate those different traditions in a normal way. And I think, and that’s my personal experience, but I think that’s the essence of integrated education if you allow children to be exposed to those differences, discuss them, and celebrate them hopefully more and more children that have had that experience will grow up to respect one another much, much more then when I grew up in the society where you didn’t experience that and look at the state we were in for 30 odd years.”

(Helen) “So students that go to the schools how do they enroll?”

(Paul) “It’s quite normal, so far as children can apply to attend a school as they would to any other school in Northern Ireland. Our schools follow the same Northern Ireland national curriculum. So it is agreed by all schools, whether it be Protestant schools or State schools as they are known here or Catholic schools, they follow the same curriculum. The main difference is what we call the Hidden Curriculum; it’s about the sport, the opportunities for different sports they can play, if you were in different schools you may not have an opportunity to play, for example, Gaelic games, you may not have the opportunity to play sports such as rugby. But it’s about sport; it’s also about how you celebrate different religious festivals and traditions. Integrated schools will try to acknowledge all those traditions. And for your listeners if you take the issue of St.Patricks Day, St. Patrick’s Day is something that’s still quite controversial in Northern Ireland and in some communities and it’s not celebrated in the State schools as it would be celebrated in Catholic Schools. So it’s around all those sources of different issues, about how history is approached and how we celebrate these things and how we can openly talk about them. But to stress the curriculum in integrated schools is very, very similar to all schools in Northern Ireland. They follow the same curriculum.”

(Helen) “So may I ask why St. Patrick’s Day controversial?”

(Paul) “Well I think, it sounds bizarre, it becoming less controversial I must add, but for the Catholic schools would have always traditionally had that as a holiday and State schools wouldn’t. And I think more and more people are starting to realize that St. Patrick belongs to all of us. The day has been used by both sides of the community unfortunately to express one cultural identity over another. And I think Northern Ireland is growing up and is moving forward and issues like St. Patrick and other issues have made progress positively. And if you think of the Queen’s visit to the Island last year which was a very positive step forward for society. And this year, we had Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness meet the Queen in Northern Ireland as well. So there’s a series of “firsts” happening, the Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson attended a Gaelic football match as well and those things would have been completely unheard of even a short time ago. They are symbolic, they may be seen as gestures, but there very positive gestures, so things that give us optimism for the future.”

(Helen) “So do you have quite a few schools set up?

(Paul) We have 62 integrated schools in Northern Ireland. When the integrated movement first came about in 1981 there were 21 children, there’s now 21,000 children. The schools are also spread right across Northern Ireland, they are not concentrated in Belfast or Derry they are right across. We still only represent a small percentage of the schools population, so we think we have a long way to go. Having said that it’s still a marvelous achievement to think we have reached those numbers given the fact that it hasn’t received the political support or the institutional support that it could have done. So for us it’s frustrating that we still only represent the small percentage of the school population, but it continues to grow Helen. And I think that’s what keeps us going and the parental support for this is strong so therefore I hope for a more positive political situation that our political leaders can move this trend more forward as well.”

(Helen) “Now you also recently celebrated, what is it 30 years?”

(Paul) “Well we recently celebrated 30 years since the opening of Lagan College which was the first integrated school in 1981. And this year the fund is celebrating 20 years of its existence, so there are special anniversaries. And it’s wonderful to think that Lagan College when it started out, there were 28 children, it now has over 1,100 children attending the school, so it’s a testament as to how well it has performed, and how popular a choice it is for parents in the community, so those are great achievements. It has been difficult; it’s been a struggle for many, many schools and parents as well, so we have to celebrate our successes like that.”

(Helen) “So, what can people do to help support if they are not in Northern Ireland and they hear about this, what can they do to lend their support?”

(Paul) “A number of ways Helen, we have a good website http://www.ief.org.uk/ and there’s plenty of information on there about how you can get involved with our campaign. For people living outside of Northern Ireland, I would stress the valued support we get from the American Ireland Fund and also the Irish American Partnership and others, so if people are listening and they are familiar with those organizations and closer to home are very willing to link together with people maybe living in America or further afield and the Ireland Funds operate globally. And they’ve been very strong supporters of our work and their chief executive Kieran McLoughlin is a great friend of ours and would be, no doubt willing to connect people. But through our website you can make direct contact with the associates of the organization and also using other social media like Facebook as well http://www.facebook.com/IntegratedEducationFund , so we’ve got a Facebook page there you can sign up to be our friend and be a friend of the Education Fund, and we regularly update that Helen. It would be wonderful if anybody is interested in what we’re doing and in what we’re trying to achieve it, would be great to hear from them.”

(Helen) “Can people also offer a donation or anything Paul?

(Paul) “Absolutely, through our website and we have secure online donations, so as I said it’s http://www.ief.org.uk/ . And on the homepage there’s an online donate button which people can use as well. And if people need the tax incentive, like in the United States, as I said we’d encourage people to contact our friends through the American Ireland Fund as well, there also online through the Ireland Funds website also. You can find how you can support through that channel. But please the best way is to get in touch with us directly and we can share information with anybody who’s interested.”

(Helen) “So one quick last question, what are your hopes for the future for the schools?”

(Paul) “Our hope is children going to school together, irrespective of what community you come from, what religious background you come from that it will become normal. That it isn’t the exception that children get to experience one another. It may be a long way off, but we think we’re on that journey, we don’t think it’s going to stop. It would probably take us longer than we would like, but that’s our hope for the future and we think Northern Ireland is a wonderful success story in so many ways given where we have come from and where we are at now in the fact we have a shared government and what we would like to see is having a shared society. And I appreciate sectarianism, and all those differences there not going to heal overnight, there’s a lot of wounds in the community, but the more people can meet each other and work together, learn together in the same schools, I think we will begin to understand each other a lot better. And then we can really be an example I think to the rest of the world that you can transcend conflict and division and we think integrated education has an important role to play in that.”

(Helen) “Well thank you so much Paul for taking the time to talk, I really appreciate it."

(Paul) “Well thank you for your interest Helen and I really appreciate the time to be able to talk to you about it.”

Wednesday 10 Oct 2012

Announcement-Darrah Carr Dance Performance

Darrah Carr Dance will be performing with special guest choreographer Sean Curran at the Irish Art's Center in New York November 16th-November 18th 2012. Please check for all details at www.irishartscenter.org/dance.htm . They'd love to see you there. So please check it out!!!  Also a big congratulations to  Darrah Carr Dance who has been nominated for a Bessie Award for our work with guest choreographer Seán Curran. More details can be found here:http://www.dancenyc.org/bessies/  

Weblog archive

My Interview with Tara O'Grady: Sunday 30 Sep 2012

My Interview with Darrah Carr of Darrah Carr Dance: Sunday 30 Sep 2012

My Interview with Helen Flaherty: Sunday 30 Sep 2012

My Interview with Sarah McQuaid: Sunday 23 Sep 2012

Sarah McQuaid USA Touring Schedule!!!!!: Wednesday 22 Aug 2012

My Interview with Fiona J MacKenzie: Wednesday 22 Aug 2012

My Interview with Mary K Burke: Wednesday 22 Aug 2012

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