A WEST Belfast schoolteacher is to receive the Aisling Awards Beacon of Hope award for her efforts in supporting vulnerable children during the pandemic. 

The prestigious award will be bestowed on John Paul II Primary School Vice Principal, Marie McIntyre, during the Aisling Awards gala at the Europa Hotel on Saturday night.

Ms McIntyre has been to the fore in securing additional educational and financial supports for children and families at the height of the Covid-19 crisis. 

She commended her colleagues for ensuring vulnerable children did not fall through the cracks caused by the pandemic, and insisted she is accepting the Beacon of Hope award "on behalf of the school community".

"The reality is that I am in the privileged position of working with a principal and colleagues who went above and beyond what was expected of them during lockdown," she said.

"They rose to the challenge of online learning and ensured that lessons were prepared, differentiated and marked every day – often working late into the evening to accommodate those children who posted work after the school day had ended.  

"They ensured that children knew that they were being 'kept in mind' even when we were unable to see each other, sending encouraging messages to children and families who they knew were finding online learning difficult at a very stressful time.



"They flagged up families who appeared to be struggling and allowed me to access additional support from the many agencies who supported us: our Educational Welfare Service, Whiterock Children's Centre, Relate Counselling Services, St Gerard's, Clarawood and Harberton Outreach Services and the Literacy Support Service. Greggs Bakery who provide breakfast for our children every morning in their classrooms also offered financial support to allow us to help families in need. 

"Our staff volunteered to supervise vulnerable children and the children of key workers even when they had concerns about their personal safety. They delivered food parcels and Chromebooks. They organised whole school online events like Sports Days and concerts and staff videos. They posted messages on Twitter, some informative and many funny and encouraging to ensure we all felt and stayed connected. All exemplifying what a nurturing school in the Edmund Rice tradition is."

Ms McIntyre also praised the schools' pupils and their parents who kept teachers motivated during the most difficult of times.
"They reminded us of how lucky we were to be part of such an amazing school community," she said. 

"As we continue to weather the Covid storm I am mindful that for many in our school community life continues to be difficult.

"We are fortunate to be supported by our Governors in an extremely difficult year when one of our much loved Primary 4 pupils, Kaitlin died and many families have experienced illness and bereavement and family pressures.  

"Receiving the Beacon of Hope Award this year is both unexpected and a delight. I am so proud that the efforts of our school have been recognised."