Ashfield Girls shine under spotlight at the Eastside awards

21st June, 2022

A group of pupils from Ashfield Girls’ High School took to the stage of the Stormont Hotel recently to showcase their talents, at the annual Eastside awards. The performance at the awards, which celebrates the best of East Belfast, is the latest phase of a special project the pupils have been working on under the guidance of professional actress, Christina Nelson, musician Emer Maguire and author Sheena Wilkinson.

The school was one of eleven to receive funding through the Creative Schools Partnership in September 2021. Supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Urban Villages Initiative and the Education Authority, the programme is designed to encourage schools to embrace the benefits of the arts by injecting more creativity into the classroom and improving educational outcomes for students.

Schools were given the opportunity to apply for grants of up to £15,000 each to develop a two year arts project that would bring professional artists into the classroom to teach students new skills, build self-confidence and explore creative expression.

Speaking about their project, Ashfield Girls’ teacher Sam Fitzpatrick commented:

“Together with artists Christina, Emer and Sheena, our students are exploring the concept of what it means to belong (to family, form class, school, community and the wider world) through literature, drama, music, creative writing and journaling. Witnessing the girls perform their song, ‘Belonging To Belfast’, so confidently at the recent Eastside Awards, is testament to the value of the creative experiences offered by the Creative Schools Partnership. The girls were thrilled to showcase their piece at such a prestigious event, as was aptly summed up by one of the student’s, Lillie, afterwards: ‘It was brilliant … the best experience ever!’”

The Creative Schools Partnership programme is based on research which indicates that access to quality arts experiences in school can benefit all aspects of learning and personal development. This includes better engagement, improved attendance, improved results in other school subjects, increased confidence, self-esteem whilst promoting positive mental health and well-being. It is a student-centred approach using the arts as a catalyst for connected learning, raising aspirations and fusing community and school based efforts in improving educational, good relations and wider social outcomes.

The arts is a natural stimulus promoting innovative approaches to learning. Students are encouraged to think creatively and critically, developing their own voice, resulting in a sense of pride and citizenship. The programme enables teachers to collaborate with arts professionals across a range of creative domains; to co-construct learning opportunities and address the specific needs of pupils in their school and the communities in which they live. Through creative arts participation, young people develop new skills and strengthen their relationships with their communities whilst identifying potential career and self-expression pathways.