A heady concoction

Comenius and cocktails seem an unlikely combination, but one Aberdeenshire school has created a winning recipe

Jean McLeish

It's here - the feel-good cocktail!

Sixth-year students at Portlethen Academy have developed a fruit-based non-alcoholic cocktail book as part of their Comenius project on citizenship, enterprise and comparative health.

It's an EU-sponsored project and Portlethen is linking with schools in Iceland, Romania and Madeira for collaborative work across the curriculum on healthy eating. They're also working on an international cookbook with recipes contributed from their overseas partners.

Portlethen has won an International School Award for the range of its work on global education. As part of that work, it has been involved with the British Council's Comenius venture for more than a decade.

Principal teacher of biology Doreen Scotland is a Comenius Ambassador and is urging other Scottish schools to join. "Comenius is about fostering internationalism and putting the global context into the curriculum - and with A Curriculum for Excellence it hits all four capacities," she says.

Ms Scotland is in her state-of-the-art lab with the students, making final preparations for the cocktail book's publication. The school moved into this amazing new building in 2006 and, as its website says proudly, it's one of the most technologically advanced in the country. This project is also a lot of fun - and five of the sixth years have recently returned from a trip to Madeira, along with pupils from schools in Iceland and Romania. Next May, they will host a visit to Scotland.

Holly Sayer, 17, opted to be part of the Comenius team after a word-of-mouth recommendation: "My friends did it last year and I heard good things about it, so I thought it would be a good experience."

Comenius is a timetabled option for sixth years who spend four hours a week on the project, which crosses the curriculum, taking in a range of subjects including art, computing, home economics, music and drama.

The sixth years' work filters down the school, with pupils throughout the year groups involved. "There is work being done by third and fourth years in art, a lot of material on the website is being done by S1-3 and their Health Passport is going to be introduced to S1 and S2 next year," Ms Scotland explains.

Students will carry the Health Passport with them throughout their school career, using it to document their healthy lifestyle. "We are about to start work on the design for the book, so the art teacher and home economics teacher are involved with that as well," says Ms Scotland.

Part of the collaborative work involved a survey of the school meals in the partner countries, with Scotland coming top of the league for providing a balanced healthy diet.

Headteacher Bert Swinborn is enthusiastic about Comenius: "The group does a tremendous amount of work and I think they act as terrific ambassadors for the school. Just the sheer variety of the work they do makes them appreciative of other cultures and opportunities to meet other people. I think it's wonderful for their confidence and self-esteem as young people as well."

Comenius is not all about cocktails and jet-setting to the sun - last year, the sixth year group travelled to Romania, where they learned more about some of the harsh realities for teenagers in other countries. "It was a real eye-opener. The girls really enjoyed it. They said it was ghastly seeing some of the things, but they wouldn't have missed it for the world," says Ms Scotland. "When we went to the school, there was no heating. The toilets were unbelievable - a concrete shed around a hole in the ground - not even water or anything. And it was the same at home for these children - they had no electricity, no running water, and no toilets, and this was only four hours away from Bucharest."

This year's students are working on a film with the drama department to illustrate the benefits of healthy eating. Tom Stephen, 17, put on 27 T-shirts to beef up for his role as an overweight person: "You get a lot more abuse, so no, I didn't like it," he says.

The book includes Portlethen's prize-winning recipe for a Midnight Heather smoothie. Second-year pupil Shannon Yule and home economics teacher Carol Baxter came up with the recipe, which won first prize at the Scottish Food Fortnight Smoothie Final.

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Jean McLeish

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