Mari Gregan is a tutor on the QQI L5 Nutrition certificate night class in Gorey Community School. Here, she outlines tips for eating well during the pandemic.
During this time of uncertainty and angst, many of us reach for the fridge or snack cupboard for comfort. For many, that can be a normal human reaction. This is a time, however, when keeping our body well is more important than ever.
The foods you eat affect your health and wellbeing. Eating healthily can reduce your chances of developing a lot of diseases. In fact, a good diet can improve all aspects of your life from brain function to your energy levels. Food affects every cell and organ in your body.
1. Avoid too much processed junk food.
These foods are low in fibre, protein, and vitamins or minerals but are high in ingredients like added sugar and salt. Thus, they provide a lot of empty calories. These foods are engineered to trigger your pleasure centres, so you are tricked into overeating. For some, this can even lead to a food addiction.
This includes sugary drinks. These are the most fattening items you can consume. The brain does not recognise the calories from fizzy sugary drinks like food. So, you end up eating way more total calories in the day. Fruit juice can be just as bad in this regard.
2. Eat enough protein.
Eating enough protein is vital for good health. Try to include protein with each meal. High protein not only aids in the protection and health of every cell in our bodies, it has also been shown to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Not only that, eating protein gives us the most satisfied feeling and keeps us full for longer, which helps us to avoid reaching for sugary snacks!
3. Eat fruits and vegetables.
Fruit and vegetables are loaded with all the good stuff! They are packed with our essential vitamins and minerals and antioxidants. Include fresh, seasonal (where possible) fruit and vegetables in your daily diet.
4. Try to avoid eating a lot of refined carbs.
Not all carbohydrates are the same. Some are highly processed foods where the good stuff like fibre has been removed. Stick instead to the whole grains and your fruits and veg.
5. Do not avoid fats in your diet.
Fats are necessary in our overall diet. But look for good healthy fats, which do contain some saturated fat. Healthy fats include olive oil, avocados, nuts, chia seeds, dark chocolate, and fatty fish.
6. Take a supplement of vitamin D.
Exposure to just 15 minutes to sunlight on your face and arms gives you all the vitamin D you need in a day. But if we are not getting this, it is beneficial to take a supplement. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium which aids bone health. It also plays an important role in our immune health.
Other foods to aid the immune system include broccoli, garlic, peppers, spinach, almonds, ginger, green tea, kiwi, and turmeric.
7. Keep hydrated.
You need to drink adequate amounts of water for good health. Authorities commonly recommend eight 8-ounce glasses, which is about two litres.
8. Combine healthy eating with other beneficial habits.
Exercise with a good diet can help maintain optimal health. It is also crucial to get a good night’s sleep. Remember, that stress also plays a vital role in how we digest the nutrients from our food, so it is helpful to learn ways to help minimise our stress response.
Lauren Ryan has more reason than most to learn Russian – her boyfriend was born in Russia and she will be hoping to converse in his native tongue when they visit Russia in the next few years.
“I took the Russian beginners class in Coláiste Chiaráin in Leixlip to learn his language,” says Lauren, who loves languages and took on Irish as an extra subject in her degree. “And I wanted to do something to challenge me after I had finished my degree.
“I’m absolutely loving it. Whilst I have a good grasp of speaking Russian, I wanted to improve my reading – the Russian alphabet is completely different. But it’s so much easier to learn Russian when you can read it, as it is literal and phonetic. Once you can read it, you can sound it out.”
With seven people in the group, there is great variety – and tutor Rodica Darii comes in for great praise. “Rodica has a great way of explaining everything and she talks us through what we’re doing so that it’s easy to understand. She also finds new things for us to do at home so that we practice during the week. She puts her heart and soul into it.”
“People in the class want to travel in Russia and be able to speak the language, which I think is great. The class makes is so that you wouldn’t be apprehensive now about speaking Russian.
“There’s a massive Russian community in Ireland and Russian people are so proud of their language and heritage. And I think it’s really cool that people here are learning Russian for their own personal reasons.”
For Lauren, being able to communicate in Russian now means she can text her boyfriend’s mother in Russian!
Mary O’Sullivan has been attending the lace making class in Ashton Comprehensive School for five years. She tells us of her experience in the class:
“This class was a totally new experience for me. During Heritage Week over five years ago, I went to a Lace Expo in Cork and was intrigued by what I saw. Veronica Stuart, our tutor, was there that day and she recommended the class in Ashton. Veronica is one of the longest-serving tutors in the school.
“Everybody makes different pieces, with lace, crochet and embroidery. I'm working on a table runner of wildflowers of the forest. It is Mountmellick Lace style which is unique as it is the only form of white-on-white embroidery from the Nineteenth Century which can claim to be entirely Irish in origin and design.
“It is brilliant to learn a new skill and I have made all types of lace at this stage. Most of the class return each term and we are very welcoming to new joiners. It is sociable and we sometimes display our work and go to exhibitions out of the school. Since starting the class, I have also become a member of the Irish Lace Association.”
The 2019/20 version of the Adult Education Ireland lifelong learning booklet, a celebration of adult learning at NACED schools, has just been published. Featuring the articles and interviews which have appeared on this site over the past 12 months, the second edition of this booklet tells the stories of many students and tutors across a range of hobby and certified courses. Print copies of the booklet will be available at any of our member schools, and the electronic version can be downloaded here.
In Hartstown Community School in Dublin, evening classes range from aerobics to Zumba, boot camp to computing, DIY to pottery, gardening to oil painting, Asian cooking to photography, crochet to yoga and lots, lots more!
Here, a student and tutor tell us of their experiences …
Ger Keegan loves the night classes in Hartstown Community School. “Every year, I look at all the local brochures and, inevitably, I end up going back to Hartstown,” says Ger, who has just completed a Dog Grooming night class and is currently participating in the Meditation and Mindfulness class.
“I feel things are well-organised and the place is lovely and warm. I find everybody lovely there and I love the cup of tea in the middle of the class – you get to chat with the others and it’s a great social element to the night.”
The Dog Grooming class was just the ticket for this dog lover. “I found it terrific, very informative. The tutor, Louise, was wonderful – as well as grooming, we covered positive reinforcement and feedback to the dog.” This practical hands-on course also includes dog handling, brushing, bathing, clipping, ear cleaning, nail clipping and dental care.
“Louise brought in a different type of dog each week and her grooming table and showed us great tips to help everyone keep their own dogs tidy at home.
“It was a most enjoyable class – you wouldn’t want to miss one!”
A tutor’s tale
On Tuesday nights, tutor Jason Deegan teaches the fundamentals of drawing in the Drawing for Animation, Cartoons and Comics class. It covers everything from designing and posing your own characters to an introduction to visual story-telling from Jason, an animation artist with 20 years’ industry experience. It is ideal for those with an interest in animated film, video game design or comic art.
“I designed this module myself,” says Jason, adding that the animation field in Ireland is booming at the moment. “The class appeals to adults who have done some drawing and want to produce their own comics or characters. We cover everything from perspectives to storytelling, comic panels, storyboard panels – the focus is very much on drawing characters.
“Storyboards are still used to create storylines, so drawing is still important, even if a lot of TV animation is done on CGI – computer generated imagery.”
No surprise then that the class is still drawing a crowd … !
Modules in QQI L6 and L6 Special Needs Assisting are a great way of getting into a new line of work. Here are two stories of how the SNA modules changed the lives of two night class students:
For Patricia Fitzgerald, returning to education after 16 years led to a QQI Level 5 qualification, undertaking a Level 6 qualification, and a good prospect of employment.
“I completed the Level 5 module in Special Needs Assisting,” says Patricia, who’s able to walk to the night class in Cashel Community School, Co Tipperary, as she lives locally.
“I found the night class great – it was easier than if I had studied for it on my own. I was out of education for 16 years and it has been great going back. The tutors are brilliant and the notes were helpful. Level 6 is definitely more intense and I would recommend that people do Level 5 Special Needs Assisting first.
“For me, having night classes in Cashel Community School is great because I don’t drive, so it is very handy. And I was also able to do my work placement locally, and I stayed on after my work placement to work as a volunteer.
“You’re also fully employable with the SNA modules. I’m currently working as an SNA and [at the time of writing] interviewing soon for a full-time position.
“For me, the classes were great for my confidence. I didn’t think I’d be able for anything like that. The Level 5 and work placement were great – I learn as I go and the course gave a great insight as to what the SNA work involved.”
Patricia’s involvement with the school shows the role of community schools in their communities. “I went to school there myself, did a Post-Leaving Cert course there, and now, my children attend the school as well.” And, when she was ready, Patricia turned to her old school to continue her lifelong learning journey.
Less than a year after returning to education, Patricia has boosted her skills and her confidence - and her chances of securing full-time work.
“I love it and would recommend it to anyone!”
A new chapter for Portmarnock’s librarian
Sheila McWilliams was the school librarian in Portmarnock Community School, Dublin for five years and has recently moved into her new role as a Special Needs Assistant this year having completed the QQI Level 5 module as a night class. Next up, Level 6 “and I’m going to keep going as far as I can go with it”, she says.
Everybody needs to know more about ADHD or dyspraxia, said Sheila.
She has great praise for tutor Marie O’Connor. “Marie was very supportive and helpful. She delivered the course content in a very clear and easy to follow manner.
“I found the course very interesting, insightful and enjoyable. And I continue to learn on the job every day.
Every Monday night, a chorus of women’s voices ring out at the Cantabile Vocal Ensemble in Bishopstown Community School in Cork. For 10 weeks each term, the night class brings together a group of women who enjoy singing together in a fun, but hard working environment.
“The group learns how music works, the different styles and we’ve moved from unison to part singing,” says tutor Dr Mary O’Brien, who’s also a music teacher in Ashton Comprehensive School in the city.
“This year, we’ve introduced songs in Italian and French and that has allowed us to move from popular classics to more classical songs in other languages. It’s about exposing the class to new repertoires.”
The group, aged 16 to 70, are in popular demand and have previously participated in the North Wales Choral Festival and in the Choral Competition in Féile an tSamhraidh, Midleton, Co. Cork.
“We’ve also been invited to sing at the Youghal Choral Society’s Christmas Carol Service, the National Rowing Club’s Community Hall Christmas Bazaar, and in Griffin’s Garden Centre, Dripsey, where we did carol singing to raise funds for a local charity.”
Mary herself brings a wealth of experience to the choir, having specialised in Choral Conducting under Dr Peter Erdei at the Kodaly Institute, Kecskemet, Hungary. “I love bringing my skills to the local community,” she says, adding that the ensemble has proved an uplifting experience for everyone involved.
“It’s a little community of its own – but new members are always welcome!”
Fiona Kennedy just loves her cake decoration night class in Ashton Comprehensive School, Cork – and her talent shows in her work. She’s so good her handiwork won gold at a recent Cork Sugarcraft Show. All thanks to a nurturing night class which she started in 2018!
“I was always interested in baking and I’ve a great interest in making flowers. The class also covers making figurines, writing on cakes, covering cakes. The tutor, Kathleen Cronin, is fantastic. She got us to enter the Sugarcraft show which is in Cork every two years and we did very well. Kathleen is so encouraging, she’s great at giving you confidence.”
The class has been such a success for Fiona that she has also joined the Cork Sugarcraft Association and met loads of like-minded people. “The cake decorating is a big part of my life now,” she said. “It relaxes my mind – I get so involved in it and forget everything else.”
And her lucky family are the beneficiaries of all her lovely artwork. And, in time, they may also be receiving stained glass gifts! Clearly a creative person, Fiona has just started a stained glass night. “I love it, it’s totally different. With the cake decorating, I practice at home. But with the stained glass, I just go in and work away there on my A4-sized puffin! I love birds and I love the Skelligs in Kerry – we were able to pick anything we’d like to do, so I picked a puffin. Others are making flowers, animals, lighthouses, lampshades.
“In both classes, the tutors give a lot of background information. There’s loads to know about sugar – people don’t realise that! And, in the stained glass class, tutor James Nicholl tells us where we might see stained glass windows and how they’re made.
“The classes are really great – I’ve met such nice and interesting people.”
Alice Dooley was one of the lucky Spanish class students to visit Cabra, Andalucía, in Spain in September 2019. Nine students from Bishopstown Community School, Ballincollig Community School, Ashton Comprehensive School, and Carrigaline Community School went on the immersion trip, organised by their tutor, Mariana Jiménez Moreno.
“It was fabulous – Mariana and her partner did great work. It was a full immersion trip, everyone spoke in Spanish all the time. It was non-stop for four days, you’d nearly need a holiday after it! But I was fully able to comprehend everything.”
Cabra is a rural town in the Córdoba region. It lies along the route between Cordoba and Málaga in the south of Spain. A small town by Spanish standards – its population is around 21,000 – Cabra’s main industry is agriculture and its key products are olives, olive oil, grapes and wine.
“This area was known as the Garden of Spain – there are 200 fountains in the area, so there’s no shortage of water. We visited an ecological centre, a winery, the Ermita la Virgen de la Sierra, and a local bullring.” Visits to local cities were also included, with plenty of time to view the stunning local mountain vistas. “It’s a fabulous area for walking with lots of greenways. It would be great for an active holiday.”
“We were learning all the time, and getting explanations about the food during mealtimes. They are very serious about what they eat and drink and we got a good sense of the importance and provenance of food.
“The trip was unique. We even had people coming up to us in Cabra asking if we were the linguistic group from Ireland. Everyone was very friendly.”
Alice started the Spanish class three years ago and is a frequent visitor to Spain. The class, on Wednesday afternoons, is very sociable. “Everyone is interested in learning and, in the class, everything is related back to Spain. I like languages and, on the trip, it was great to meet people from the other schools. Hopefully, Mariana will do the trip again!”
Michael O’Mahony works as a chef in a Cork hospital – but outside of working hours, he cooks up amazing stained glass creations.
“I just love it,” he says of the hobby he took up three years ago in Carrigaline Community School. The night class, run by master craftsman James Nicholl, has enabled Michael to adorn his own home with everything from a stained glass lamp shade to a six-foot-long front-door panel, done in four pieces.
“I had never done stained glass before, beyond putting in the odd pane of glass! And I was familiar with soldering from plumbing handiwork, so I just took to it. Now, I can do the skills, so I want to develop the design and James is a great tutor.”
Michael is so keen on stained glass work that he bought all the equipment required and supplements his class time with many hours in his workshop at home working on projects. “This year’s project is purple irises on a white background. And I’m trying to design my own seascape including a lighthouse, cliffs, sea – I have to draw it out first, so the new skill for me is to get the drawings and proportions right.”
Michael’s skills are so good that his tutor has taken him on for some piecework in his studio. And, when he retires himself, Michael is looking forward to doing as much or as little stained glass work as he wants. He’ll have earned it – he has been working as a chef in the hospital for 47 years.
In the meantime, he’s hoping to add to his creations - angels, fish, blue irises, even a map of Ireland (though Limerick did crack and had to be replaced!). “My wife is delighted with the stained glass – we give them away as presents and my stained glass is in homes as far away as Canada and California.”
Business classes can help many entrepreneurs get their enterprise off the ground – and up and running successfully
Jo and Jason Whyte attended the Start and Grow Your Own Business night class at Scoil Mhuire, Clane Community School, Co Kildare in early 2018.
“My Kiwi husband and I live in New Zealand and had returned to spend some time in Clane, where I grew up,” said Jo. “Prior to leaving New Zealand, we had decided that we wanted to set up our own business. With Jason being a Security Engineer, it was a no brainer to pursue an electronic security business.
“The course sounded like a perfect opportunity for us as, although we knew what we wanted to do, we didn’t know where to start.”
The couple found the course extremely well run and it covered everything that is involved in setting up and growing a business. “Each week, a guest speaker came in and talked to us about their field of work, from an accountant to a web designer. We were also provided with various tools and templates that we could use. The facilitator, Johnny, a business owner himself, was a wealth of knowledge which he readily and enthusiastically shared with us.”
Jo and Jason are now back in New Zealand and into the second year of business. “We’re really pleased with where we’re at and feel that the tips and tricks passed on to us by Johnny and everyone involved in the course was a huge part in getting us up and running.”
A jewel of a business
Ciara Early always had a passion for jewellery and, a few years ago, attended jewellery making classes as part of the Adult Education courses in Scoil Mhuire. “The course was fantastic, and I learnt all the basic skills for jewellery making,” said Ciara. “My passion and confidence grew from the skills I learnt during the course.
“Following on from that, I set up my own jewellery business called Maiden Jewels. Scoil Mhuire’s Adult Education Department is a marvellous outlet right on our doorstep.
“I also attended two cookery courses and also the Cognitive Behavioural therapy course with Rita Stanford, which I loved.”
Every year, Tara McCarthy tries to do a night class. This year, she’s undertaking the new Bookkeeping Certificate in Malahide Community School.
“I went back to work full-time a few years ago – and did an Excel course when I was going back into the workforce and so that I could do basic accounts. In my new role, I’ll be moving into Finance – I have no formal training in bookkeeping so this new ICB (Institute of Certified Bookkeepers) certificate will teach me bookkeeping and give me a qualification as well. For me, the timing couldn’t be better.”
Previously, Tara and her husband did night classes together as a way of spending time with each other and getting time out from parenting their four children. “We did a ballroom dancing class together – I started night classes here in 2010 and try to do at least one a term.
“This ICB certificate will help me with my career and it’s nice for the kids to see that education doesn’t finish with college.”
Along with helping her career, the night classes help socially as well. “I’ve made good friends on the courses and still meet up with people I’ve met over the years. On this course, it’s all women of different age groups and professions and it’s really about women supporting women. We go over things at the end of class and Elaine, our tutor, is brilliant and we get support as well from Tena, the ICB representative – that is great because we are learning from a different perspective. That and the ICB resources are a wider support, like a scaffolding, around the class.”
Every night class comes with an adult education department behind it and Tara is very complimentary about the team in Malahide. “The staff are brilliant, and they provide a huge number of courses for the whole community.”
Tara is so pleased with her progress that she’s thinking of progressing onto Year 1 of the Accounting Technicians’ course!
Mariana Jiménez Moreno moved to Ireland in 2010 and, shortly afterwards, she started teaching Corkonians how to speak Spanish!
Today, she delivers beginners and more advanced Spanish classes in Bishopstown Community School, Ballincollig Community School, Ashton Comprehensive School, and Carrigaline Community School.
And, in September 2019, she and nine of her night class students headed to Cabra, a small town in Andalucia for four days. “This was an immersion experience to enhance their Spanish language and knowledge of the Spanish culture and way of living,” says Mariana, who hails from Madrid originally.
“Cabra is a small town and most of the people there do not speak English, so it was an opportunity for the night class students to practice their Spanish. The town is one hour’s drive from Cordoba and Granada, and two hours from Seville, so it was a great base.
“The main aim was to learn about the town and to get to know everything about it, the people, the food, the culture.”
The Spanish classes in Cork have proved extremely popular. “A lot of different people come to the classes: from people who are in college to people in their 80s. Some people want a few words of Spanish to use on their holidays, or some want to learn Spanish because a family member has married a person from Spain or Latin American and they want to communicate better with them.
“In some classes, we have a very wide range of ages. I have students who want to train their mind and learn another language. Some people are retired and want to move to Spain (or already have a base in Spain) or want to learn to speak to Spanish-speaking grandchildren. Or, in the September class, people come to learn Spanish because they have booked a holiday in Spain over Christmas.”
As with any night class, the social benefits are enormous. “In some classes, a lot of the same people come back each year. People become friends and get to know about each other’s lives.”
In terms of lifelong learning, Spanish is ideal in helping people to navigate social situations on holidays. “In the beginners’ class, we cover the basics, greetings, introductions, then different foods and directions. At the improvers’ classes, the participants know what they need – maybe going to a hairdresser when living or holidaying in Spain.
“Every class has a cultural element – so, for instance, at Christmas time, we cover what Christmas is like in Spain, compared to what it is like in Ireland.”
And the lucky ones get to visit Spain – lifelong learning at its best!
When we think of Tai Chi, we think of slow graceful movements – and, yes, you too can learn those slow moves in night classes across the country.
Master Charles Thackaberry is an experienced Tai Chi tutor and has been teaching Tai Chi since 1981. Today, he runs very successful night classes in Gorey Community School, Co. Wexford, right back where he started in the 1980s. “Classes became very popular during the Celtic Tiger years because people realised they needed to take care of themselves,” said Charles, who also runs classes in Dublin.
So, what is Tai Chi? An ancient Chinese tradition, it combines a series of slow continuous movements that flow into each other, meditation, and breathing exercises. “You tune into your body and mind,” said Charles, adding that, in today’s fast-paced world, people who are recovering from illnesses find it useful and busy people find it a great way to destress.
Charles himself came to Tai Chi as a fan of Bruce Lee when he was a teenager in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. “I did Tae-Kwon-Do for a few years but was not into the fighting side of it. Then a friend of mine died and I felt like I had no tools to deal with it. I discovered Tai Chi and my teacher told me it was an art for living.
“It’s quite meditative and a lot of our students might come to us suffering from burnout – Tai Chi lets you recover and learn techniques so you can save yourself. It’s very relaxing and calms the mind and can really help with anxiety or physical and mental stress.” Charles also works with people with Down’s Syndrome who may not be able to verbalise stress.
“The exercises are geared towards the health side of things, and are ones that help with blood pressure, stroke and the mind.” By working at a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level, Tai Chi helps bring balance to a person’s body, mind and soul. “A lot of people who don’t sleep well say they always sleep well the night of the Tai Chi class!” said Charles.
In Gorey, the classes proved so popular than an additional night was added, bringing the number of classes available to people to four a week – two on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. “When I started classes in the 1980s, one of the first places that gave me a class was Gorey Community School under the adult education director then, Paddy Conway. It didn’t take off at the time, so it is great to see how Tai Chi is so popular now in Gorey.”
NACED schools are the first in the country to introduce a new Certificate in Bookkeeping accredited by the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB).
“The Certificate is aimed at those who are new to bookkeeping and have little or no previous knowledge or experience,” said Tena Sheil, an accountant and lecturer who has introduced the Certificate to Ireland. “It’s ideal for anyone who would like to work in an accounting role in a small business, for people who would like to run their own bookkeeping business, or for owner-managers who wish to understand the finances of their small business.” It is also very useful for bookkeepers who would like to enhance their experience with a qualification.
So far, two community schools have had great success with the Certificate, introduced in September 2019. “Malahide and Gorey are running the courses with good numbers attending – essentially, ICB provides the course materials and the school sources the tutors.”
The Certificate in Bookkeeping is made up of five topics: Underpinning Knowledge, Preparation of Business Documents, Accounting for VAT, Entering Transactions, and Reconciliation and Reporting.
At the end, successful candidates will be able to show a full understanding of the concepts of double-entry bookkeeping and its place in modern business, enter transactions into a bookkeeping system and produce an initial trial balance. They should be able to reconcile sales and purchases ledger balances against the relevant control accounts and reconcile the bank account. They should also be able to identify and correct errors present in the system.
What is the ICB?
The ICB is the largest bookkeeping institute in the world, said Tena, who lectures on the ATI course in Gorey Community School’s Adult Education Department and delivers ACCA and CPA professional programmes. The ICB promotes and maintains the standards of bookkeeping as a profession through the establishment of relevant qualifications and the award of grades of membership that recognise academic attainment, working experience and competence.
Significantly, the ICB also offers a conversion course for those who have achieved a Distinction in QQI Level 5 Manual & Computerised Bookkeeping.
Both the Certificate and Conversion Course include student membership of the ICB, where members benefit from enhanced professional status, global recognition, ongoing support and the kinship of the world’s most engaged bookkeeper community.
The advantage of having an ICB qualification is that ICB qualifications are recognised as the benchmark for the profession across the world, said Tena.