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St.Gerard's School & Support Services

Achieve, Believe, Celebrate

John Muir Award

Class 10B have just completed their second year of the John Muir Award, an environmental award scheme focused on wild places on our doorstep.

The Award scheme helps young people connect with nature and enjoy wild places in a non-competitive, inclusive and accessible atmosphere.

Last year they completed the 'Discovery Award'. This year they have been presented with their 'Explorer Award'. 

The activities that the boys have been involved in have helped them to learn in a practical way outside the classroom, in a constantly changing environment that challenges them in a way that cannot be delivered in a school setting. The pupils absolutely loved the interaction and attention that they received from Jo Boylan from the Belfast Hill's Partnership, Michael Culbert from Belfast City Parks and the team. They deliver a programme that takes into consideration the needs of our pupils.

Parents have outlined to us how pupils have developed socially, how the award scheme has undoubtedly increased their personal development and how it has encouraged their awareness, understanding and responsibility of their local environment.  The boys have been out walking in all weathers and often covering distances of 6 to 7 miles and, as I'm sure the parents will corroborate, they go home at the end of the day exhausted but buzzing! 

Their teacher Mr McCotter was able to give the boys an additional insight into the original place names of the areas they explored in order to give them a sense of history and why they were originally given these names and why they were changed from the native Gaeilge language to English.  

Lets have a look at some of the highlights of their 8 week adventure with Mr McCotter and classroom assistant Mr O'Neill.

Beann Mhadagáin (Cavehill/Ben Madigan 'Madigan's Hill)

Sliabh Dubh (Black Mountain)

a 6.5mile hike with spectactular views over Beal Feirste /Belfast

Woodland Management at Loch na Leathghealaí / Half-moon Lake


The first trip to Lenadoon's Half-moon Lake was a very busy affair. There was hands on experience of woodland management, which entailed working in groups to cut back over-grown trees and shrubs and using the access to create new woodland habitats and chopping branches to make logs. Michael and the staff were very informative, friendly and helpful and even made everyone hot chocolate by the fireside. As it was now December, Christmas wreaths were also made after the hard work was completed.

Colin Glen Forest Park

Exploring the Bio-diversity of the River with Jo Boylan from the Belfast Hills Partnership.

Where Timothy Murphy discovered a 'Common' Newt', which apparently aren't so common. Well done Tim!

Loch na Leathghealaí / Half-Moon Lake

Bat Boxes, Bird Feeders and St. Bridget's Crosses

In January the boys learnt about Ireland's indigenous bat population and how common they are on our doorstep. They built their own bat boxes (bat houses) which were then hung up around the wood. They also learnt about the history of and how to make the St. Bridget's Cross. Michael from the Belfast City Council, told us that the cross is placed on doors to ward off fire and hunger from households and has been a custom in this country for millennia.

Timothy Murphy and Gerard Shortt were also taught to make food for the birds out of lard, seeds, nuts and pine-cones. They then hung them from the trees around the park, while the rest of the boys feasted on baked potatoes and roasted pheasant!

Sliabh na Cloiche Nature Reserve (Slievenacloy - 'mountain of stone')

Treasure Trail

Under the guidance of Jo Boylan from Belfast Hills Partnership and Michael Culbert from Belfast City Council Parks, Class 10B continued their John Muir Award at Sleivenacloy Nature Reserve with a treasure trail.

On a bitterly cold day the class was given two maps and were tasked to find a trunk full of treasure in the beautiful setting of Slievenacloy, a wildlife paradise nestled in a valley between Divis and Colin Mountains on the outskirts of Belfast. Paired into two groups they traversed the fields in pursuit of hidden clues and riddles which would lead to their reward.

Facing cutting winds and in sodden under-foot conditions the boys showed plenty of grit, resilience and resolve in their quest - and not a complaint was heard. they displayed abundant skill and care on route and used their map reading talents and team-work to easily uncover their prize.

On discovering the treasure chest they then had to work out how to transport their booty to base-camp. Duct tape and brush poles were luckily revealed buried near to a Fairy Tree and it was decided to construct a stretcher with the found materials to carry the heavy trunk. Four people were required to stretcher the weight and the lads worked wonderfully well under the leadership of John Moylan, who ensured that when one of his men was tired another was to replace him. The other boys were to safely steer the pall-bearers across fields, over stiles, through gates, up hills and down lanes to camp.

When they reached their destination the tired, hungry and cold hunters first had to gather firewood, find some paper and then light the fire to get some warmth into their bodies. It was here that they got stuck into their plunder - enough chocolate and jellies to satisfy a whole school. Fortunately  Mr O'Neill and Mr McCotter were on hand to help them out!