Who is APTIS you say? Well they're not MI5 but after having the pleasure of meeting them I will tell you this; they are a Marvellously Integrated group of leaders planting the seeds for integration to grow!
APTIS is the Association of Principals in Integrated Schools which holds a conference annually; an event which harnesses the collective vision of the principals leading integrated schools and facilitates a network of support to provide a united voice for integration in Northern Ireland. The conference that myself and Laura attended on 15th November gave us the opportunity to address approximately 50 integrated principals along with members from NICIE and educational researchers from Queens University Belfast. Our aim was simple; share our story and enthusiasm as integrated alumni and demonstrate how we can give our time to the integrated schools around us.
The conference was lead by Nigel Frith, principal of Drumragh Integrated College, who took the time to engage and interact with the group of principals by sharing effective, relevant media to spark thoughts and ideas, to begin a productive discussion and to share a positive attitude for togetherness and passion for integration moving forward.
As myself and Laura made our way up to address our encouraging audience I jokingly confessed to once thinking that having just 1 principal in front of me was scaryenough- but now having 50 in front of me was an entirely different matter! In reality they were beyond welcoming. As Alumni we emphasised the point that integrated education does not stop at the school gates but must extend throughout our society as a whole. We showed our genuine interest in helping and facilitating integrated schools as they had helped us throughout our primary and post-primary days. We demonstrated how proactive the members of the alumni are; sharing our back to school roadshow video, sharing the multiple workshops, meetings and political forums we organise and contribute to.
Speaking to some of the principals during the conference made it clear that they would welcome more involvement from alumni and moving forward, they asked for a list of individual alumni who would be willing to sit on the board of governors for some of the schools.
One of the workshops after lunch involved getting into pairs and going for a walk- in my case i walked with Angela the principal of North Coast Integrated College. This allowed those in attendance to build a rapport with at least one other individual there; a unique way to build relationships within a large team. A second workshop allowed everyone to choose a session to attend- i had chosen one on pedagogy facilitated by Jim McDaid from Hazelwood Integrated Primary which was very interesting as it highlighted the important statistics about learning in children and the current research that must be recognised by current teachers.
Later, a proposal was made by researchers from QUB to perform a comparative study on year 8 students in integrated post-primary who had come from both integrated and non-Integrated primary schools. As a whole, a study like this could show the continuation in mindset from integrated primary- post-primary and could potentially show a dramatic change in those coming from non integrated primary backgrounds. For this to work schools would need to get on board, however, an important future outcome could show the impact of the integrated ethos after the summer break the following year.
One of the key points that Nigel Frith addressed was mental health in students. He made a clear statement on implementing a framework for identifying and recognising mental health in students.Bringing up important questions: what ideas do we have to tackle this? How can we help students become more self aware and recognise if something is wrong? He made it clear that we can always do more to help others and ourselves.
Myself and Laura were really proud to have attended the conference and to be given the opportunity to speak! Thank you to APTIS and NICIE for their continuous hard work and effort for integrated education in Northern Ireland!