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Bringing the Passion back into fashion

Many Catholic schools stayed open this week to help pupils see the spiritual origins of Easter

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Schoolchildren in dozens of Catholic primaries in Wales celebrated the true meaning of Easter this week by going to school.

As non-faith schools broke up last Friday, many RC schools delayed their two-week break to make time for prayer, quiet reflection and working for good causes.

And while children in many non-faith schools focused on visits from the Easter bunny and eating chocolate, some Catholic youngsters discovered the deeper meaning of the biggest date on the Christian calendar.

Instead of the usual Easter bonnet parade, classes were perfecting Passion plays, acting out the week leading up to the crucifixion and holding charity fundraising events.

John Healy, head of Our Lady and St Michael's RC Primary in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, said deferring the Easter holiday by a week meant classes had more time to celebrate the religious festival in quiet contemplation. All this week, his pupils have taken part in assemblies and masses, but they still had a chance to make fluffy bunnies and chocolate-coated chicks in class too.

Mr Healy said congregating the children together so close to Easter helped reception pupils understand how the events held at school relate to the religious days.

"Many pupils wouldn't have had the opportunity to be aware of what Easter is about if they hadn't come to school," he said.

Pupils at Our Lady and St Michael's come from many different backgrounds. They are not predominantly Catholic, but parents were happy about the deferred break - not least because holidays are cheaper off peak.

Anne Manghan, director of RE in schools in the archdiocese of Cardiff, said a number of primaries in the capital had chosen to put their holidays on hold: "Schools place great emphasis at this time on outreach and support of others, their families, their parishes and the local and wider community."

She said a number of Cardiff schools had taken part in events run by Cafod, the Catholic overseas development charity.

St Anne's RC Primary in Wrexham raised money for the charity as part of its focus on the spiritual dimension of Easter. And its pupils heard a talk about how children in the developing world live.

At All Saint's RC Primary in Ebbw Vale, Passion plays were performed a few days before the Easter weekend.

"We celebrated Palm Sunday on the Friday before, Maundy Thursday on the Monday and then had the resurrection on the Wednesday," said Denise Olsen, the head.

"It was a little confusing, but by the end of the week the children had acted out the whole Easter week, and it helped them understand it."

But the more light-hearted Easter traditions were not forgotten. Mrs Olsen said children had made Easter bonnets and taken part in egg-making activities.

Some Catholic secondaries, such as St Illtyd's High in Cardiff, also opened this week, but others found it impractical as Easter is a crucial time for GCSE and A-level revision.

Catherine Britton, head of Blessed Edward Jones RC High in Rhyl, said she had considered keeping the school open in the run-up to Easter in the past, but had decided it would be awkward for parents.

"Some of the children won't see the inside of a church during Holy Week, but all the pupils are very conscious it is Easter," she said.

The school has pupils from many different faiths. On the last day of term, it celebrated a mass on the theme of friendship. Pupils were welcomed in 14 different languages, including an Urdu greeting by a Muslim boy.

"Having the children all there together is the most powerful image you could imagine," said Ms Britton.

But it was not just Catholic schools that tried to keep the true meaning of Easter alive. Some non-faith schools also embraced Easter by taking children to church or having them perform religious plays.

Sian Gwilliam, deputy head of Crindau Primary in Newport, said her pupils understood the meaning of Easter well because the school celebrates it every year.

"We have put on Passion plays for parents and used children's Easter songs and poems we all know. We do something like this every year, so they are very familiar with it," she said.

Teachers at Wales's first Polish Saturday school were also adamant that the religious meaning of Easter should not be lost. Poland is a deeply religious country. Many Poles living in Wales are practising Catholics. For them, Easter is a huge occasion.

Katarzyna Sarnowska runs a Saturday school at Rhosnesni High in Wrexham, where she teaches English as an additional language. She acknowledged that her pupils learnt about some Polish traditions at their schools, but said they had been missing out on important aspects of their heritage.

"The most important thing they learn (at Saturday school) is the Polish language, but we do many things in connection with Christmas and Easter," she said.

The Saturday school began in December and already has 90 children aged between five and 14. From next September, the school hopes to get a Polish priest involved to give lessons a more religious dimension.

Resurrect yourself

The Easter break should be a time for teachers to put their feet up. That's according to Teacher Support Network Cymru, which is urging staff to take it easy before the stresses of the exam season begin.

Although the charity acknowledges that marking and preparation must be done, it said teachers should take time out for travelling, spending time with family and friends or simply reading a good book.

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