Outgoing Children’s Ark School principal applauds team spirit throughout the hospital community

THE outgoing Principal of the Children’s Ark School in University Hospital Limerick has paid tribute to the “incredible team spirit and kindness” in the paediatric unit that helps ensure the delivery of a high standard education service for children attending UHL for treatment.

Margaret McCarthy, who retired on Friday October 23rd after serving for almost 14 years as Principal of the Children’s Ark School, said: “Our ethos is that no child will be disadvantaged educationally if they have to attend hospital.

“What I will look back upon most fondly is the overall sense of support, kindness and care from all staff, particularly from the nurses on the Sunshine Ward, which has helped us to focus on the children’s education.”

Her successor in the role is Kathleen Horgan, who joins secondary teacher Olive Dillon and recently appointed primary teacher Sandra Keehan (formerly of Our Lady’s Hospital Crumlin, who replaced Mary Carr on her retirement from the Ark School after 12 years).

Kathleen said: “I feel very privileged to begin my journey as principal in The Children’s Ark School. It is such a warm, caring and welcoming school environment, created lovingly by Margaret, Mary and Olive over the past number of years.

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I am joining a wonderful team here and I am very excited to continue to ensure we provide an outstanding education for every child in our care”.

The Children’s Ark School is a Department of Education and Skills school for day-patient or in-patient children in UHL aged from 4-19 years. It is a multi-denominational provider of primary and secondary education, and is composed of a large classroom for primary students, a second classroom for secondary students, and has its own toilets, office space and an outdoor learning area.

The Department of Education and Skills has installed 100MB fibre broadband which facilitates access to the latest technology and supports innovative educational supports for the students.

The principal and teachers are responsible for the day-to-day education of children, either in the classrooms for those children able to attend the school, or at the bedside. The school is managed by a Board of Management, currently chaired by Dr Siobhan Gallagher, Consultant Paediatrician and Associate Clinical Director, Maternal and Child Health Directorate.

Margaret McCarthy is the last remaining link to the origins of the school, having taken up post on December 4th, 2006. “Dr Liam Carroll was the consultant paediatrician here at the time, and he was aware of the benefits for children of having a school in the hospital.

‘Thankfully, he was able to identify space in the form of a dining room attached to the kitchen in the Sunshine Ward that enabled the school to be sanctioned by the Department of Education.”

“It was very new territory for the hospital, and like anything that’s new it was very exciting, but also very challenging,” Margaret recalled. “I was extremely grateful in those early years for the support of Dr Carroll and the management board, and also for Mary Carr, who arrived in mid-2008.

“Working out of that dining room space, we worked closely with Dr Carroll and the board to get Department of Education and HSE approval for a dedicated school building.” Frank Keane, following on from Dr Carroll as chairperson of the BOM and Helen Cunneen, project manager helped to get the building over the line.

What Margaret will look back on with most fondness and satisfaction during her retirement is her memories of the children and parents who have been supported by the school, as well as the huge support given to her and her team by the school management board and healthcare staff throughout the Children’s Ark.

“As teachers, in addition to teaching, we have also been to a great extent advocates for the children too, as well as providing support to parents who are often very taken up with their child’s diagnosis.

“It’s been lovely to be involved in a service that has helped so many young children, helping them to keep up with their peers. Even though they’ve been disrupted by sickness, they haven’t been at an educational or social disadvantage due to the illness,” Margaret recalled.

“And as well as the wonderful dedication of the teaching staff, I must thank the Group CEO, Colette Cowan, as patron of the School, for her unstinting support, and I’m also profoundly appreciative of the huge buy-in to the School from all staff in the Children’s Ark.

When we started in 2006 this was completely new, so as well as the hugely fond memories of all the amazing children we have worked with over the years, it would not have been possible without  the professionalism, kindness and courtesy that has always been extended to us.

There’s a huge team effort, and a palpable sense of care right across that team, to ensure that the children in the Ark have the very best of everything,” Margaret added.

School Board of Management chairperson Dr Siobhan Gallagher said: “I wish to thank Margaret and Mary for their huge contribution in founding and developing of Children’s Ark School.

“Their dedication to teaching the children, creativity, and advocacy have been exemplary. I would like to welcome our new principal, Kathleen Horgan, and teacher Sandra Keehan, to the team, and look forward to working closely with them in providing education to the children at Children’s Ark.”

UL Hospitals Group CEO, Colette Cowan, said: “As patron, the Ark School is very close to my heart, and I would like to extend my profound gratitude to Margaret McCarthy and Mary Carr for all they have done for the education of children who attend our hospital.

“I wish them a happy retirement, and welcome new principal Kathleen Horgan and primary teacher Sandra Keehan to the fold. I wish them, and secondary teacher Olive Dillon, well in the time ahead, an exciting era in which I have prioritised the Children’s Ark for ongoing development in line with the National Paediatric Model of Care.”