School days… spent falling Through the Cracks

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Left, Aisling Ryan and Fiona McDonnell

TO HEAR you speak of school days; and  rejoice in your worth. To the point that a drama verbatim will be made of people’s diminished experiences of formal education as they grew/ are growing up in Limerick.

The mission is ‘Through the Cracks’, a work in progress to which you can be party, led by producers from The Young GAFF performance resource centre.

These are Fiona McDonnell and Aisling Ryan, women journeying in college, at summer jobs and making performance work. The versatile, gifted Monica Spencer, specialising in community/ festival arts as facilitator, is mentor.

Aisling Ryan (an incisive, impish Cecily in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Tiger’s Eye), gives Arts page a window seat to this public call-out for relevant stories. The breadth of response accumulating  will result in testimonials being used word for word to fashion the performance piece that will be  ‘Through the Cracks’.

Their exploration is backed by a small Arts Council grant.

“‘Through the Cracks’ is about how the education system is failing us”.

Is it?

“The subjects are not really provided for in schools, certainly not in girls’ schools” – pointing to the dearth of technical drawing, drama, the arts and so on that stunt potential, leading to attrition and arrested lives.

Aisling and Arts page have some to-and-fro- on the parallel vocational stream available. Also that the property burst flattened interest in construction and engineering courses. Now as she heads to Chester University for an Erasmus year in drama studies, has she herself felt burnt by school days?


Left, Monica Spencer of The GAFF with Josephine Cotter-Coughlan, director of Cultral Services, Limerick Council, launching GAFF’s programme into December 2017
Pic: Alan Place

“No… but it took a long time for teachers to recognise my work. I actually moved schools for the Leaving Certificate. Only then I was given the option to grow and take on higher subjects… and have that belief and hope put into you”.

Previously it was a music teacher had tapped into Aishling’s potential, limited by undetected dyslexia and likely, her  pocket blonde-ness. She was cast as lead to the school musical and filled the part, loving stage work.

She went on to leave her subsequent, positive school with a deck of honours and signed into Mary Immaculate’s Liberal Arts.

Back to the present. Aisling and Fiona are courting our honest experience of schooldays – if they disappointed or negated us.

“We have planned workshops for students and we will talk to teachers, interns and principals and get their opinions, the other side of it. Participants’ identities will be kept confidential if they wish. It has to be looked at, why people are falling through the cracks”.

Fiona and herself share equally the quest to establish why education tiers shunt out perceived failure and young people struggling with special needs and social support.

“We want to show the effects of the system on students who don’t fit in its narrow lines of measurement”.

Will you enrol?

Make contact with @theyounggaff on facebook or Twitter and prowl website thegafff.ie

An observation from project mentor Monica Spencer, herself an actress, festival director and theatre practitioner: 

 “Obsession with points, competition and outputs coupled with an emphasis on rote learning has reduced our education system to one of schooling. In the context of The GAFF’s commitment to community engagement, this issue is one that needs to be interrogated and exposed.”