Every year, in early September, I used to make the 40 minute journey back to my old secondary school for its open night. For six years or so I made the trip to Pobalscoil Neasáin in Baldoyle, a place I’ve regularly written about, but this year I find myself unable to make the journey for the second year running and I’m honestly a little sad.
You see, this September marks a full decade since PSN did what no other school seemed to have the guts to do for a fragile 15-year-old who’d lost all sense of herself thanks to a psychological bullying fiasco. They took a chance and took me in, and I’ll never ever forget it.
I can actually still vividly remember my first day, sitting in what felt like the largest canteen in the world, staring up at two giant glossy green doors that stood either side of a stage packed with tables. Within weeks I’d plant myself down in a seat at one of them, a seat I would call mine every lunch time for the next three years.
Little did I know, when I sat struggling not to laugh in my first class as one of the lads – known only to me as that bloke they called ‘Smiley’ – made jokes I didn’t even realise you could make in front of a teacher, that this was the first day of the rest of my life.
I’ve written those words thousands of times at this stage, but the more I write them the more I’m sure that they’re the only ones that even come close to describing what that school did for me.
Without the support and encouragement the then principal, Mary Carroll, and my year head, Aisling Mhig Shamhráin, gave me, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. From Therése Glennon to Bríd Ní Annracháin, Clare Webster to Des Mooney and beyond, the list of teachers I often hear referred to as “legends” by former school mates goes on and on.
Of course not everyone will have had the same experiences, nor remember their PSN days in the same way as I do, but the relationships I forged while walking the corridors of that little building in Baldoyle, and the lessons I learned in its classrooms, have stayed with me for life.
At the start of my Leaving Cert year I left to go to a school closer to home that taught Spanish, the language I’d been learning in the first secondary school I attended. The Institute of Education was – and still is – one of Dublin’s top rated schools when it came to getting the grades, but I left after just six weeks and went back to Baldoyle.
Because The Institute, wonderful and all as it was, just wasn’t PSN.
No school was like PSN. No school ever could be because, thanks in no small part to my incredible friends and stellar teaching staff, PSN felt like family. PSN felt like home.
And that’s what I always loved being there to tell the parents who shuffled through the doors in early September, some eager, some skeptical, and some just ticking another school off the list of visits with no clue either way.
“Having boys in our class didn’t stop us doing well”, I recall explaining to one concerned mother. “In fact if anything, it made us more eager to upstage them when it came to exams.”
Teachers, lawyers, artists, musicians, models, chefs, engineers, TV producers and yes, even journalists emerged from the Class of 2008. And now, seven years on, I still watch classmates excelling in their fields, sharing snapshots of their lives from as close to home as Raheny to as far afield as Australia, Canada and even India, when they’re off gallivanting.
And as for me? Well, I’m living and working in London, doing something I’ve always dreamed of doing but never thought possible.
Of course we all don’t owe that success directly to what we did in secondary school. Of course it’s of our own doing.
But I know, looking back, that without PSN, I wouldn’t have had the foundations upon which to build the life I lead now.
Two years ago I wrote a blog post expressing my frustration with school league tables and their failure to account for the power of positive pastoral care. Today my opinion is no different.
So, if I had to rank or give it ‘marks’ looking back a decade later, I wouldn’t hesitate to give Pobalscoil Neasáin a solid ten out of ten.