Tales from the Reading Rooms: Mary Fitzpatrick, Children In Need Project Officer

Lagan Online chats to Mary Fitzpatrick, Verbal Arts Centre’s Children In Need Project Officer for Reading Rooms.

I started my journey with the Reading Rooms team at the Verbal 2 years ago. In the initial stages I began facilitating the Little Legends programme with children aged 0 – 8 years! Little Legends Reading Rooms follows the same practice model as all our Reading Rooms, structured around the delivery of a session so that every child thoroughly understands and enjoys the story and poem. The stories are chosen by our literary guide, Susanne Stich, with stories that children may not ever have the opportunity of reading and exploring in schools. The stories are on a national and international level, using tales like ‘The Tea Party in the Woods’ by Akiko Miyakoshi, a Japanese author; ‘Otto The Book Bear’ by Katie Cleminson, a British author; and not forgetting the very famous Oscar Wilde!

Now, I have a new job! I am the new ‘Children in Need’ Project Officer with the Reading Rooms, a job I am delighted to have gained after a very intense interview process. I am using the same practice and tools, however, it is a new challenge, engaging children and young people who are at risk or most disengaged from our communities and introducing them into the world of literature. Using books, poems and short stories to help refocus the young people back into society and help build on their confidence, self-esteem, language, structure and self-belief again. This would not be possible without the ongoing strength and willingness from all our partnerships, for example Extern, Kinship Care, Voices of Young People in Care (VOYPIC), Looked After Children (LAC,) Educated Other Than at School (EOTAS), The Playtrail and Family First Hub. Also our statutory bodies work so hard alongside us in making sure the young people receive the best experience out of the Reading Rooms.

I am always keen to continue engaging young people and those most disadvantaged in areas of high deprivation.  Coming from a working class background, growing up with ‘hand-me-downs’ was very much the norm in our house. We had girls squabbling over how worn out the skirt was the dress didn’t fit, so that you might be in with a chance of getting a new one! However, that never happened: Mammy always made it fit with a stitch here and a pin there ha!. So I have grass roots knowledge of appreciation. I sat the 11+ examination as you were told to do and unfortunately I received a level ‘3’, as it was then back in the early 90’s. To receive a grade 3 was a failure, you didn’t pass. You had to attend your local secondary school with all those other individuals who didn’t even bother to sit the test. It didn’t automatically qualify you by wearing that Thornhill uniform and get a bus to school, which is I think is what I was most fascinated with.

I then embarked on five long amazing years at St Brecan’s High School were I worked my ass off and had the best experience to date in all my educated life. I made the best of friends and worked towards my goals and most of all, I achieved them. I wouldn’t let a uniform define who I was to become, or where I lived or how often my blazer had been worn by my older sister!

Nowadays I thrive in telling kids who stress and cry over the transfer test to go to the school of their choice; it doesn’t matter the outcome in year 7 of a primary school child, or what school you go to.  It is how you push yourself to achieve your goals on the next step of the ladder.

With the Reading Room,s I have experienced some wonderful moments that the participants are unaware of. I hear from kids ‘I hate reading’ or ‘I don’t want to read’ and I find that this is merely a barrier the kids use to avoid focus and structure. Not because they want to, but because that is what they are used to for one reason or another. For example, the story ‘First Day of Snow’ by Naoka Awa. I read this to a group of kids from Extern, who rolled about and walked about pretending to be uninterested in the session, however when we reflected on the story at the end, the kids were fighting over voices to have theirs heard in the hope their answer was correct or indeed the best! It is moments like this that make my job worthwhile, when you see the realisation of learning on a face that never experienced that ‘pat on the back before’ showers you with pride. Giving the young person the chance to voice their own views and reflections through the art of literature. Being allowed to give an interpretation or opinion that is always deemed as right, because there is no right or wrong. The imagination belongs to you if you allow it to.

Mary Fitzpatrick
Children In Need Project Officer.

If you are interested in getting involved as a volunteer with Reading Rooms or wish for your organisation or group to participant in a Reading Room then please contact Mary by email – readingrooms.youth@theverbal.co or phone – 028 71 266946.

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