• Interviews

Dundalk Study Academy / ‘We have to do our best and work with what we have’

Dundalk Study Academy
Monique Bryson-Clarke and Leanne Muckian of Dundalk Study Academy.

For Dundalk Study Academy, the coronavirus pandemic could not have come at a worse time. From March to late June, their Clanbrassil Street classrooms would usually be brimming with students taking part in workshops, studying for exams or receiving grinds.

That all changed with COVID-19 or more accurately the governments announcement to close schools and businesses towards the end of March.

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Dundalk Study Academy was established in 2016 when Leanne Muckian and Monique Bryson-Clarke, both teachers at the time, noticed that some students struggled to reach their full potential when it came to studying and consequently did not get the results they were capable of. They set up their business to provide a distraction free study and grinds setting with a focus on student’s confidence, motivation and wellbeing with the end goal being, somewhat obviously, that students have the opportunity to achieve the best results they can.

Since 2016, the business has grown exponentially and has received widespread praise for its specialist workshops on the likes of exam pressures and cyberbullying as well as its for its contribution to its young member’s exceptional results. The business was also a finalist in Irelands Best Young Entrepreneur Competition for Best Start Up Business 2018. They didn’t win nationally, but they were overall winners in the category in Louth.

In the last four years, Dundalk Study Academy has become a staple in the centre of town, finding its home on Clanbrassil Street where students ranging in age from 12 to 18  attend grinds five days a week. From March, this would typically change to six days a week to allow for extra study and come June students would be able to access DSA’s facilities every day of the week. It is safe to say that the closure of businesses came at a time when Dundalk Study Academy was at its busiest and most vital.

They went from full to capacity to nothing at the stroke of a pen. The effects of the pandemic wrought fear and uncertainty in business across all industries but when your business model centres so much on annual state exams, every June with no exception, seeing the exam schedule postponed and then shelved in it’s entirety was a bitter pill.

“When the government announced the closures, we were quite shocked to be honest, especially in our line of work,” Leanne explains to LouthNow.ie. “We had heard in advance that it might happen but when it did so quickly, it took us by surprise. We just had to close overnight, there was no easing into it. It was just boom. One day open, the next day closed.”

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Like most businesses, the Study Academy had to pivot quickly. At their time of closure, the Leaving and Junior Cert exams were all still going ahead and many of their students now faced the added challenge of having to teach themselves from home, added to the stress uncertainty inevitably brings.

Muckian credits her and Byrson-Clarke’s experience with change as the reason they were able to adapt to a new structure so quickly. “We were originally secondary school teachers. Business was all new to us when we set up so we’ve gotten quite use to adapting and learning new things very quickly.” Dundalk Study Academy went from a school-like setup to completely online in the space of two weeks – bringing their grinds classes, study skills programmes and support for students onto their website.

“We were online 24-7 for students. We made sure we knew everything inside out and then we taught it to the grinds teachers. It was a big step, we had a lot to learn and it was difficult, but we just got on with it.”

Unique to Dundalk Study Academy is the fact that while most other businesses are back to some kind of normality, their business is very much on par with schools across the country in that they are all still waiting for information about opening, regulations and how exactly social distancing is going to take place, if at all.

Due to the nature of the business it also only runs in a nine-month term, reflective of the school year. Usually, all of their plans for the following term would already be sorted by this time, according to Leanne.

“Our business is very much about planning ahead. We work in a scheduled term so we have to have everything done in advance. There is no room for waiting around. However right now the only thing we can do is our best and work with what we have.”

The Junior Certificate exams were ultimately cancelled, followed shortly by the Leaving Certificate too. Muckian, like many across the country, remains unsure about whether or not it was the right call – despite the immediate and obvious knock-on effects on their business. “It’s hard to say what was the right thing to do. I think the Junior Cert was right to be cancelled – there was so much stress on the poor students and their parents.

“As for the Leaving Cert, there is so many unknowns and it was a hard decision across the board. We won’t know until we see if the predicted grading actually works.”

As for the oft-discussed conversation about whether the Leaving Cert is the right way to determine young people’s future, Leanne is of the belief that it can be changed. “Hopefully this pandemic will wake people up and they’ll see there are other ways and means of doing exams that are fairer to students across the board.

“I think what would work best would be a blended approach of both continuous assessment and a sit down exam. However it would have to be implemented slowly rather than a massive change.”

Dundalk Study Academy, are prepared to “move with any changes, because students always need that extra support.” With the help there for students, Muckian also believes that the support is there for Louth’s small businesses too, thanks to the Local Enterprise Office, where the two new business partners sought help in the early stages of their entry to entrepreneurism.

The Local Enterprise Office have advice for small business on their website, with information on applying for a restart grant, wage subsidy schemes and tips on financial planning and training.

“There is a lot available for small business out there. The Local Enterprise Office have always been so forthcoming. They’re really helpful even with online courses. We did compliancy training for COVID with them. I’d definitely advise businesses in our situation to get in touch.”

“It’s all about the drive and the passion you have and just getting through these things. Weirdly enough, I think we’ll come out stronger”
  • Leanne Muckian
  • Dundalk Study Academy

Like the many schools across the county, Dundalk Study Academy are calling on the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, to relay more information and advice so schools and businesses like them can plan for the future. At the moment all that is known is that there might be some relaxation of the two-metre social distancing rule, however nothing is confirmed as of yet.

“We’re still waiting for word on what the regulations will be. It is so hard to have any specific plans in place until we get confirmation of what will actually happen in the next school term.”

Regardless of whether the future exam, school, or study structures change, Dundalk Study Academy say they will be back again in the new school year despite the massive hit they’ve taken.

“COVID has affected us massively but it’s all about the drive and the passion you have and just getting through these things. Weirdly enough, I think we’ll come out stronger because we’ve been hit so badly but are able to get through it.”

Dundalk Study Academy are still available to students through their social media channels @dundalkstudyacademy. They can also be contacted at 087 403 5720 and at [email protected] For more information see their website dundalkstudyacademy.ie.

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