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Speech by Minister Brendan Smith at the Presentation of Certificates to Second Level Students in Co. Wexford

10 March 2008


I am delighted to be here today to attend this important celebration at which you, the Meitheal leaders, will be presented with your Certificates in recognition of your commitment to the Meitheal programme.

First of all I would like to thank Tina Kelly, Meitheal Coordinator for her kind invitation to be here this evening. 

I would also like to welcome all the Meitheal Leaders - their coordinators, Principals, parents, representatives from Parents Council, Co. Wexford Meitheal Alliance, Co. Wexford Partnership, Wexford County council, fellow Deputies and the many guests attending today as well.

I know that the Meitheal Alliance has continued to go from strength to strength in the second level schools in Co. Wexford with the assistance of funding received from the Department of Education & Science under the Fund for the Development of Targeted Educational Responses to Certain Children at Risk over the past number of years. Meitheal has expanded to all twenty second level schools in Co. Wexford, and even beyond, with Colaiste Bride, Carnew, Co. Wicklow since it was first piloted in one school in 1997. 


As you most likely know, the original Mentor is a character in Homer's epic poem.  Mentor was the son of Alcumus and, in his old age, a friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus left for the Trojan War he placed Mentor in charge of his son, Telemachus, and of his palace.

The first recorded modern usage of the term can be traced to a book entitled "Les Aventures de Telemaque", by the French writer François Fénelon. In the book the lead character is that of Mentor.

Of course the modern use of the word mentor is: a trusted friend, counsellor or teacher, usually a more experienced person. While some professions have "mentoring programmes" in which newcomers are paired with more experienced people in order to obtain good examples and advice as they advance, schools have embraced mentoring programmes for new students or other students who may have difficulties from time to time.

In general, mentors provide their expertise to less experienced individuals in order to help them advance their careers, enhance their education, and build their networks. Indeed many of the world's most successful people have benefited from having a mentor including: 

And while looking at the origins of words, Meitheal is of course the Irish name for a work group, conveying the idea of 'connection with neighbour.' Traditionally, the term referred to rural agricultural groups. The practice was, and is, for a group of neighbours to come together to help each other in tasks such as preparing the hay, or gathering the harvest. Each person would help their neighbour who would in turn reciprocated.

Therefore MEITHEAL & MENTORING are well linked in looking after and caring for the needs of others. The one aspect of this programme which has impressed me is that it is based on pro-respect; cultivating respect between students and one that enables students to take responsibility for the happiness of others and for the safety and well-being of all who share a school environment.

Mentoring Programmes in Schools
Mentoring programmes are now recognised as one of the most successful interventions in ensuring the progression of young students from primary to post-primary level. 

The transfer from primary to post primary can be very daunting for young people, moving from the familiar surroundings of their primary school, their teachers, their friends and the security of that environment to a new school where they are the most junior students having been the most senior students at primary, having to take on several new subjects, make subject choices, have perhaps up to 12 teachers compared to 1 teacher at primary, find their way around a much bigger school, find classrooms, lockers, cope with homework and new rules and regulations!  

Those first few days in school are perhaps the most crucial in removing the ‘fear factor' and making it a ‘happy' and positive experience. Whilst this support is crucial in the first few days in post primary school the Meitheal leaders continue to ‘be there' for those who, at any time during the year, require further advice or assistance. 

In a study published in 2004 by the ESRI for N.C.C.A. - Moving Up -  the experiences of First Year Students in Post Primary Education” it was shown that young people's experiences of the transfer process can influence their subsequent academic and social development.. 

And this is where the mentoring programme is a significant mechanism in providing the support, guidance, and friendship that these young people require in this new stage of their lives and as a method to support them throughout the education process

These supports are all provided by you, the Meitheal leaders who have undergone training.  This training offers you an opportunity to learn skills that in turn will stand to you in later years, both on an inter and intra-personal basis such as personal development, identity, self-esteem, communication skills, listening skills, assertiveness skills, group dynamics, group management and many other skills.

Vital to the success of this programme also, is the involvement of schools' staff who volunteer to act as overseers of the programme within each school. This enhances relationships between the school staff, the Meitheal leaders and all pupils of the school, and involves these young people in a practical and real way in the day to day life of the school.

As I have said, progression from primary to second-level is recognised as a crucial transition period in a child's education. Under the DEIS Action Plan, which was introduced by my colleague Mary Hanafin, Minister for Education and Science in 2005, a continuing emphasis will be placed on the development of effective transfer programmes by building on the existing work of Home School Community Liaison and the School Completion Programme. 

In Co. Wexford, the Meitheal Programme together with the School Completion Programme and Home School Community Liaison play a very important role in the progression from primary to second-level.

To this end I would like to acknowledge the efforts of all those who participate in this initiative and to congratulate the staff, the parents and most especially the young people who have successfully mentored as Leaders under the programme.

It now gives me great pleasure to present the certificates to the Leaders of the Meitheal programme

Again, I want to express my thanks to Tina Kelly for the invitation to be here today and I wish you all well in your work in the future.



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