THE POLICE have been spending a fair bit of time at Barrhead High recently.
But it's fish they have been trying to catch rather than miscreants.
At the invitation of the East Renfrewshire school, a local policeman has been sharing his passion for angling with a small group of disengaged first-year pupils. The effects have been arresting.
"The kids are really involved with what they've been learning," says Fiona MacCunn, the principal teacher of pupil support. "It has improved their attitude to school."
Angling for Youth Development is the brainchild of PC Derek Whittle, who says there is much more to his favourite sport than catching fish. "It's about developing an interest in youngsters that will divert them from risk-taking or offending behaviour," he says.
"It's about improving their behaviour, raising their self-esteem and helping them relate to their peers and significant adults - including staff and the police."
The youngsters have also been absorbing large chunks of knowledge - about biology, health and safety, and the natural environment - in a context that absorbs their attention, says Ms MacCunn.
As an established programme for young people supported by Strath-clyde Police, AFYD had previously been delivered only as evening classes. It had never been tried with 12-year-olds.
The initial results of the novel experiment, which began last September, were not encouraging. The four boys chosen did not respond well to the format or style. "A lot of my notes are on Power-Point, so I usually start by sitting kids down and telling them what we're going to do, what I expect of them, what they can expect of me," says PC Whittle. "In minutes, it was apparent this was not going to work with these boys.
"We abandoned the presentation. We got them doing stuff right from the start."
The rods, reels and lines proved a big hit. "We got them to handle the tackle, talked to them about using and choosing it, showed them how to look after it. We got them wearing safety gear. We took them on fishing expeditions. We brought somebody in to teach first-aid. We went with them to a hatchery, where they saw the life-cycle from a wee egg to a whopping big fish."
While the fish and insect biology appealed to the science teacher in Ms MacCunn, the social and personal benefits to the boys will last longest:
"In a sense, the content was not vital. What made the difference was the approach Derek took.
The course has been running longer than the 16 hours Angling for Youth Development usually lasts, says Ms MacCunn. "We plan to keep it going weekly with visits from Derek every few weeks. We have established an interest in an activity we want these boys to continue into their adult lives."
To help that happen, AFYD has "dug a bit deeper" for these youngsters, says PC Whittle. "We provide the equipment on the course, so nobody is disadvantaged. We also give them a present at the end - like a box of flies. But we gave them a full set of fishing tackle. They have everything they need to catch fish."
Angling for Youth Development, Derek Whittle, Giffnock Police Office, T 0141 532 5710, E firstname.lastname@example.org
KIDS AND COPS
Sean wanders casually into a small room at Barrhead High, explains that he has lost his jacket, takes a look around and wanders off again.
"That would never have happened before he went on the course," says Mark Armstrong, campus cop. "These boys wouldn't have come anywhere near my office."
The duties of a campus police officer range from investigating incidents to raising drugs awareness and improving the image of the police force among sceptical kids and their communities. This is the hardest part.
"The police are always annoying you about something," Sean says. "I thought it would be hard to work with them. But once the course got going, it was easy."
Connor says: "One bit I'll remember is how to put people into the recovery position. I didn't know what to do if somebody got into trouble."
The fly-tying session was Cameron's favourite: "I thought the casting was easy. But the fly-tying was hard. I really liked it."
The effect of the fly-tying session on all the participants was startling, says PC Armstrong. "A box of feathers, a little fly and some thread, and these boys sat and concentrated for an hour. They were sociable. They were keen to get it right.
"It is a peaceful thing to do. It's something they got results from quickly. They could see the point of it - they were making something to use when they went fishing.
"You wouldn't believe the difference in these boys since they started the course. They are quite wild and I dare say they will continue to have their moments. But it has had an amazing effect on them."