Hats off! Tech giant Red Hat helps out Kilkenny school’s STEM programme

St John’s Senior School was first school in Kilkenny City to have a coding club and followed this first with a robotics club


St John’s Senior School pupils try out their Chromebooks with teacher Mary Prendergast. Also pictured, front row: principal Brian de Roiste (left) and Brian Dooley from Red Hat (right)

The STEM programme at St John’s Senior School in Kilkenny has received a fantastic boost following a generous donation from global software company Red Hat and additional support from its board of management and parents.

The city primary school, that boasts junior and senior coding and robotics clubs, has received 60 shiny new Chromebooks and a charging trolley to enhance the school’s busy STEM programme. Global software company Red Hat, which has an office in Waterford, donated €4,000 towards the significant purchase.

The school’s board of management also contributed towards the purchase of the Chromebooks and further donations were bestowed by parents and members of the community though the school’s GoFund Me page.

Brian Dooley, a software developer and technical writer at Red Hat who lives in Kilkenny, brought news of the STEM programme under way at St John’s Senior School to the attention of his Red Hat colleagues.

“St John’s Senior School was the first school in Kilkenny city to have a coding club and followed this first with a robotics club. This, and the St John’s pupils’ enthusiasm for coding, really impressed the team at Red Hat,” he said.

“I applied to the Red Hat Cares committee who manage a community outreach programme that give knowledge, skills and support back to the communities where Red Hat associates live and work they agreed that St John’s Senior School was a worthy candidate.

“Red Hat is delighted to be in a position to help St John’s Senior School further develop its great STEM programme. It is great to see primary school children being given such a wonderful opportunities by their committed and hardworking teachers and St John’s is really pushing the envelope when it comes to STEM education.”

KidCoders is the name given by the pupils to the separate coding and robotics clubs established in 2018 at St John’s Senior School to increase computer literacy within the school and the tech group has grown in both size and reputation.

The school was chosen by the Minister for Education and Skills as the base school for Kilkenny, and just one of 68 schools nationwide, to participate in a network of Creative Clusters as part of the Schools Excellence Fund and the Creative Ireland Programme. St John’s Junior and Senior Schools and Loreto Secondary school are the only Kilkenny schools selected for the initiative that uses art and creativity to achieve better learning outcomes.

“Thanks to Red Hat’s generosity, we now have two class sets of Chromebooks which are already in high demand among all classes,” said teacher Anna Marie Feeley, who heads up St John’s Senior Schools ICT programme.

“The children are using them to access their online classroom and take part in the weekly activities with Microsoft DreamSpace TV. Like many of our school activities, we have had to put our coding club on hold for now but we are starting online coding sessions with CodeClub Ireland this month. We can reassure Red Hat that St John’s coders are back on track!”

Principal Brian de Róiste said it been a very challenging term because of Covid, but there was plenty to celebrate too.

"Earlier this term, St John’s Senior School was voted second in Ireland, and best in Leinster, in the Ireland’s Fittest School initiative. Now, this incredible bequest to our STEM programme is a wonderful Christmas gift. I would like to thank Red Hat for its generosity and also extend my thanks to our board of management, parents and local supporters who boosted an already substantial donation. We are very grateful," he said.

“All schools have been affected by the necessary restrictions that allow our schools to remain open. Lockdown highlighted how schools do much more than teach reading, writing and arithmetic.

"Staff have worked extremely hard this term to replace as many of the extra-curricular activities that Covid has taken from our pupils’ experience of school. Our now well-resourced STEM programme will play its part in continuing to make learners’ experiences exciting and memorable."

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