From Ardnavally, Belfast, the home of the first integrated school in Northern Ireland to Stormont.
Integrated Education Month 2017 launched on Friday with a Celebratory Walk marking 35 years of Integrated Education in Northern Ireland. The symbolic walk from Arnavally to Stormont included a small group of founding parents, pupils, staff, friends and supporters of Integrated Education. The group left Ardnavally Scout Centre, the original site of the first integrated school, Lagan College, travelling 5.8 miles to the front gates of the Stormont Estate. Here they were met by over 500 children, teachers, parents and supporters from integrated schools and colleges across Northern Ireland.
The large gathering was greeted by Roisin Marshall, CEO of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE). A time capsule containing a sod from the first school site (Ardnavally) was then handed over by founding parents Cecil Linehan and Anne Odling-Smee to pupils from two of the newest integrated schools, Killyleagh Integrated Primary School and Loughries Integrated Primary School. The enthusiastic group navigated the arduous climb along historic Prince of Wales Avenue to the steps of Parliament Buildings to be greeted by local BBC Radio Ulster personality Marcus Hunter-Neill.
A fantastic musical performance by local singer/song writer and star of BBC1 Let it Shine Scott Macaulay along with a moving solo performance by a pupil from Lagan College, culminated in a fantastic Flash Mob of co-ordinated choreography led by pupils from integrated schools, the likes of which has never been seen in the historic grounds before.
Roisin Marshall, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NICIE thanked everyone for a wonderful day and offered her heartfelt appreciation to all for the support and determination shown over the past 35 years. Roisin went on to express her delight at the brilliant turnout today and her desire for all schools, where at all possible in Northern Ireland, to have an integrated ethos within the next 35 years. This resonated well with the integrated family who only too eagerly clamoured for the flash mob encore bringing to an end a most memorable and enjoyable morning of events. Reflection, thanks and inspiration where the mood of the day.
The seed for the development of integrated education in Northern Ireland was sown by a small group of parents in the early 70’s and led to the opening of Lagan College in humble beginnings for 28 pupils in a Scout Hut in Ardnavally, South Belfast in 1981. Since then integrated education has continued to flourish. There are now 65 integrated schools in Northern Ireland educating almost 23,000 pupils.