Glimpses of God at Barkston Ash
Glimpses of God in SPaG
I didn’t expect to include an example from a SPaG (Spelling, punctuation and grammar) test paper, but today I read the following in a Y4 paper.
The question read: Write a suitable question where the answer could be ‘everyone’.
The child had written – ‘Who does God love?’
Fantastic! That should be worth extra marks!
Foundation Learning Journey
Our Reception children’s parents often include little notes in their homework books about aspects of learning that they have spoken about at home. Mrs Poulter was delighted to read one particular excerpt recently. It said, “She also told me this morning to put my hand on my heart and if I could feel it bumping it meant God was in my heart.”
Last month, a representative from the Saint Vincent de Paul Society visited us to talk to the children about the possibility of our school of forming our own ‘Mini Vinnie’ committee. The groups are set up in Catholic primary schools, and carry out good deeds in helping the needy within school, the local community and the wider world. Mini Vinnies follow the pattern of see-think-do. They see who needs help in the world, think about how they can help and then do something about it. Their mission is to turn concern into action. We had such a tremendous response to the proposition, and it was clear that our children were keen to join the programme. We held interviews to appoint committee members, after receiving application forms from over 30 children!
During the interviews, one child said, ‘I hope to treat others as I want to be treated, just like Jesus taught us.’ Another said, ‘I will use my great faith in Jesus to help me help others.’ When telling the ten children who had been selected for the committee, I told one girl that God made her and He loved her. She replied, “I know. I love Him too.”
It was inspiring to see that the children were eager to convey their passion for helping others, and how their own faith drove them on.
God is in our midst
The focus for morning prayers changes each week, with class teachers (and myself) taking it in turn to create a weekly ‘mission’ and related assemblies, meditation and singing liturgies. Mr Craigen chose the following mission: ‘To remember that God is in our midst.’ We discussed the importance of making God central in our lives, and in our school. Class prayer tables were moved to the centre of our classrooms to remind us that God is all around us every day and sees everything we do. It was really effective and was a great way of reminding us all that God should be central to all our lives. A sheet of paper was left in the corridor, for children to write on as they passed by throughout the day, entitled, ‘What will God see around our school that will please Him?’ Within a couple of days, the (large!) sheet of paper was crammed full of wonderful observations and had to be replaced by a second sheet.
The comments, written by the children, included, ‘looking after God’s world’; ‘always making time for God’; ‘being humble’; ‘cheering people up’; ‘praying to Jesus’; ‘treating others as we wish to be treated’; and ‘talking to God every day.’
It was wonderful to know that the children were able to list hundreds of things God will be pleased to see around school.
This year, our Key Stage 2 Advent Presentation – Joseph’s Gift, told the story of Jesus’s birth, from Joseph’s perspective. The children worked hard to learn many lines, songs, actions and stage directions. We performed three times and it was wonderful to share the true story of Christmas with so many people. We even took a group of children to a local residential care home to perform a small selection of the songs for them also.
School Aims – Jesus loves YOU!
At the beginning of each year, we review our school aims. This is a really useful exercise for staff and governors to help keep us focused on what we are all about and what we want our children to achieve. One of the sections in our aims and vision is what we want Barkston Ash children to be. This includes things like: being polite and well mannered, being healthy and active, being confident… This year though we have added for children to know that Jesus loves them. Sometimes we might feel unlovable, that we’ve done things wrong that means we couldn’t possibly be forgiven or loved. It’s quite difficult to believe that Jesus loves us regardless of where we are in our life. Our RE inspection is imminent and when looking for measurable areas of success, it’s hard. We have the RE attainment levels but it is much more than that. If though, we could have every one of our children leaving school knowing that Jesus loves them – wow! That’s outstanding. Regardless of any school grading or inspection though, just think what a difference that would make in the children’s lives knowing that whatever happens, whatever mistakes they make, whatever anyone else thinks of them, that Jesus loves them. It was quickly approved by all staff and governors. Underneath our school aims it says, ‘To help our pupils to…’ The first bullet point is ‘develop their individual relationship with God’ the second now reads, ‘know that they are loved by Jesus’. We’ll be getting a lot right if we succeed in these.
Prayer Circle Time Sessions
This term we have started running prayer circle time sessions. Children are taken into our new prayer garden in small groups with Mrs Ronicle. The sessions begin with the sign of the cross and the school prayer, and the children are then introduced to a theme, story, set prayer or bible verse. There is time for everyone to join in a group discussion. The children are also able to raise any particular issues or people for which they would like the group to pray. The group then pray together; this is an informal prayer, and children are encouraged to speak to God, either aloud or in their heads, about something relevant to the discussion. The group then say a formal set prayer together from our school prayer policy, and each take a copy of this home to share with their families. They then close with the sign of the cross. The prayer garden is always available for the children to use but they are on a rota to have their led prayer circle time sessions. It is so lovely to see the children so enthusiastic about these sessions. I have heard them asking Mrs Ronicle, “Is it our turn today?” and it is a real glimpse of God to see them praying happily in our prayer garden and being closer to God.
Grand Opening of our Prayer Garden
Today Father McCarthy and Reverend Otter officially opened our prayer garden! It was a lovely occasion, with members of our school council, volunteers and staff who helped create it, and members of our local community in attendance. In the visitors’ book I noticed one child had written, “I think the prayer garden is a lovely peaceful place where you can share your thoughts with Jesus.” Mission accomplished!
Lesson observation in Class 1
This half term Miss Bracewell and I are carrying out lesson observations in RE. It has been wonderful to see the children so enthusiastic and happy about their learning. During a lesson in Class 1 about the gift of creation, the reception children were carrying out a number of different activities related to this. This was the conversation between myself and a girl in Reception:
“I’m watering the plants”
“Why are you doing that?”
“So that they can grow and I can make God’s world look nice”
First Day of the Year
The first day of the school year is always an exciting and busy one. As head, there are a lot of things to remember! Our Year 6 buddies do an amazing job with the new starters. They show such love towards them with very little prompting. Part of their role is to see them at playtimes and check that they are okay. I left myself a post it note to remind the Year 6 buddies to look out for them at playtime and not just go into autopilot and run straight onto the football pitch! Predictably, my post it note got covered with other paperwork and at 10:18am I quickly grabbed my coat and rushed outside to remind the Year 6 buddies. I was met by a line of the Year 6 buddies at the bottom of the steps that lead out to the playground. Not one of them had gone off playing. They were all waiting to greet their buddy and play with them. I praised them all and watched in admiration as they helped their buddy down the steps, asked them how their first morning had gone and devotedly played with them. I should have had more faith. Every one of the Year 6 children knew what the right thing was to do. And not one of them needed a post it note to remind them!
New Prayer Garden
Our prayer garden is now complete! You can see pictures of this (and its creation) by following this link: http://www.barkstonash.n-yorks.sch.uk/page.php?id=4547 This will be a special place where children can have time for spontaneous prayer and reflection as well as organised prayer sessions. A couple of children in Year 3 joined me today to share a prayer together. It always seems to be very hot in the prayer garden. When I said this, one of the children remarked, “That’s because God is smiling on us!”
As part of our work on raising the profile of reading in school, we have created a display with children reading. Class 2 had been asked to bring a photograph of them reading a bible story at home. It was wonderful to get an email from one parent who said: “I am really pleased that we got sent this homework task because it made me realise that we did not have a children’s bible at home! We went out at the weekend and bought one together and are reading a bible story a night”
During the season of Lent the children and staff at Barkston Ash have three key missions: to pray more (we all have special prayer partners), to give alms (we have collection boxes for Catholic Care in each of the classrooms and around school) and to sacrifice (we try and give something up to share in the sacrifice of Jesus). One of our children in Reception decided to give up ice cream for Lent. It had been explained to her that giving up something during Lent helps her to remember Jesus. Twice during Lent, ice cream had been on the school dinner menu and, despite displaying a very sad face, she was steadfast in resisting temptation, leaving her ice cream while all her friends ate theirs. As the end of Lent approached, her mother asked her if she was looking forward to being able to eat ice cream again. She replied, “I want to continue giving up ice cream because I don’t want to forget Jesus!”
World Book Day
World book day coincided with the opening of our new revamped library. Each child in the school took out a book during the day. A child in Year 1 spent a long time trying to find a book. When asked what he was looking for he replied, “Are there not any bibles to take out? I want to find out more about Jesus.” The school librarian found him a children’s bible to take home!
It was a wonderful celebration of Education Sunday at Mass this morning at St Joseph’s. Staff, governors, parents and children packed the church. Children attended in school uniform and took part in the readings, prayers and offertory procession. Father McCarthy invited me to speak at the Homily and I spoke about the catholic nature of our school. Following communion, part of the school choir performed a song to the congregation. It was fantastic. The whole Mass was beautiful and enriched, and was a real embodiment of school and parish working together.
Each year, as our new cohort of reception children joins us, we hold a special welcome liturgy in school. The liturgy is attended by Father McCarthy, the reception children, their Year 6 buddies and their families. This was a really poignant occasion. The children sing a song together, are blessed by Father, and are given a commemorative candle to take home. The families in attendance all commented on how wonderful the event had been. It was also lovely to see staff from their nurseries joining them to see the next chapter of their lives.
One of the best parts of my job are when children visit my office to show me some of their work. A child in Year 2 knocked on my door to show me a picture of some work that she had carried out at home. She showed me a photograph of a special area of her house that she called her prayer table. I could have wept with joy:
“I copied it from the prayer tables that we have at school. Now there is a special place at home where I can pray too.”
Class 4 have today taken part in a wonderful day at St Robert’s Church in Harrogate. We spent the morning rehearsing and then took part in a matinee and evening performance. Joining with other feeder primary schools for St John Fisher Catholic High School, we performed the musical ‘Roll Back The Stone’. Our very own Jack Dale was chosen as a soloist for the part of Pontius Pilate. The children were then part of the chorus for the second part of the performance as the students from St John Fisher took centre stage. It was a fantastic experience for the children. Not only did they get a chance to perform on stage in front of a large audience but they were also inspired by the talented children at St John Fisher. Seeing children older than them able to sing, dance, play and perform with such talent and confidence is such a motivation and inspiration for them. The whole performance was truly moving as the Easter story was brought to life in so many vibrant and imaginative ways.
The children were prepared for their performance by their class teacher, Mrs Siddall, but also weekly drama sessions with Mr Roberts. Mr Roberts is a drama specialist from St John Fisher and provides fantastic weekly drama sessions for our children. A huge benefit of our link with St John Fisher’s.
New Vision, Mission and Aims
As a school we have been reviewing and writing our school vision, aims and mission. We have been asking the children to come up with their own ideas for what should be our one line school mission. We eventually decided upon the mission, “With God’s guidance we grow and learn”. I was overwhelmed by the number of thoughtful responses from the children. One in particular, from a child in Year 1, really touched me:
“God looks after me because He loves me and made me.”
The simplicity of children. There is something very profound about this. Perhaps as adults we sometimes overthink things and get lost in biblical studies and theological thinking. For this child, it is simple. God looks after her because He loves her. We look after things we love. God made her so why wouldn’t He look after her?
What a special day today was. Father McCarthy emailed this afternoon to say, “Outstanding sounds a bit trite for what took place at St Joseph’s this morning. It was much more profound than that.” I have to agree; there were so many special moments. It was a real joy to see the church packed with children and their families. Children attended in school uniform and took part in the readings, prayers and offertory procession. Father McCarthy invited me to speak at the Homily and I spoke about catholic education and how we nurture the spirituality of our children at Barkston Ash. Following communion, part of the school choir performed a song to the congregation called ‘Our God.’ It was truly moving. The whole Mass was beautiful and enriched, and was a real embodiment of school and parish working together. For the second Mass at Scarthingwell I gave the same homily and, unbeknown to me, the owner of the Catholic Universe newspaper was in the congregation. He asked whether the paper could publish the homily, and I was only too happy to send a copy. It was a wonderful surprise when the school received enough complimentary copies on Friday for us to send out to each of our families.