WEST WINDS Primary School in Newtownards, has celebrated its 50th birthday with cake and themed class parties. Staff, pupils, representatives from the Board of Governors, local politicians, representatives of the West Winds Development Association and local church representatives all came together to celebrate on Friday, January 28. The school hosted a tea party with a special 50th birthday cake made by a former pupil and was decorated with photographs from throughout the years.
Due to the current pandemic, the children had classroom parties where they were allowed to dress up and play party games. A magician also popped into the classes to give the children a show. The day started with a special Zoom assembly where vice principal Claire Carson interviewed one of the first pupils who started the school in 1972 before everyone sang happy birthday. Roberta Lee started school in March 1972 after her family moved to the West Winds Estate. “The school is absolutely brilliant, I absolutely love this school and I would support it right to the end,” she said. “My own children came to this school, my nieces and nephews, and my own grandchildren are here as well. I have seen loads of changes throughout the year, from different teachers to different things happening in the school.
The school keeps getting better as it goes on, it’s a brilliant wee school.” Claire Carson said it was great for the whole community as the school was built at a time of redevelopment in the estate, and all the community groups, residents, and churches have worked together in that time. “For the school to still be here, it’s been up and down over the course of the years, but we’ve definitely worked well with the community, it has really just kept us all going,” she said. “We’ve worked very closely with the development association, they are a great support to us and Jimmy Menagh is a great support to us as well. “Again with the two churches, the Community Church and Scrabo, we try to work with them too, although it’s harder at the minute with covid.” Due to the pandemic, the school has taken a different approach to kick off its 50th birthday celebrations. “1972 was when everything was built around here and when the school first opened.
We would have had everything together but with covid, we’re having individual class parties, and all the children have been given party blowers and party hats,” said Claire. “All the staff has been told to plan for 70’s parties games, so I know P1 has Twister and Operation, which were board games out in the 70’s. We’re playing the balloon games, over-under and pass the balloons to 70’s music. Today is being kept as a 70’s theme and the children were allowed to come in their party gear and we have a magician as well.” The school is hoping to have a number of events from now to June, including a school show in April with different things happening around different decades.
An open day for parents, past staff, and pupils to have a look around the school and walk down memory lane before the big event in June. Along with the development association, the school is planning a Community Fun Day to celebrate the whole of the West Winds and finish the school year. The success of West Winds is proven by the dedication of staff who stay once they arrive at West Winds Primary. “The staff have all been here a long time which shows they enjoy working here and working with the families and the children,” said Claire. “I’ve been here 21 years, others 15 years, once they come here they stay because they love it. They love the environment and they love the area that it’s in.” Betty Weir is the longest-serving member of staff and has been at the school for 35 years.
During her time she has seen the school be expanded and witnessed a number of changes in teaching and the curriculum. “The school’s expanded, the staff and children have all changed and now they are coming back with their children,” said Betty. “My children and grandchildren all came here, I definitely recommend the school. It’s brilliant that it’s been open for 50 years. Teaching has changed and even the curriculum has changed so much. “I’ve been a classroom assistant, I’ve been a senior supervisor at lunchtime in here and I clean now too. It’s been brilliant. “I love working here with the children, they are great and the staff is amazing too, we all get on so well and it’s lovely to be here.” Jackie Evans has worked as the school’s senior clerical officer for 30 years and her favourite memory about her time at the school is when she was able to take children to America. “My favourite memory was taking the children the first year to America, they didn’t have passports,” she explained. “Some of them had never been out of Northern Ireland, never mind going to America for five weeks. We worked with the children the previous year before we went so they knew exactly what was going on. It was the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. It was amazing. “We had to prepare the children, when they got off the plane in Minnesota they were greeted with balloons, banners and toys. “No matter where our children go when they are out visiting places and people, we always get compliments about ‘we have never had children as well mannered’.
Jackie started in 1991 and has never left. She says as soon as she arrived she felt immediately at home in the school. “When I arrived at West Winds I felt immediately at home and the children, it’s hard to express how the children make me feel but they get you through every situation,” she said. “West Winds is very special to me and always will be, I’m so proud to be part of it.”