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Radio brings fresh air to the curriculum

It seems like a perfect marriage. A room in the maths block at Doon Academy in Dalmellington, East Ayrshire, has been made over with logos of BBC Radio Scotland, microphones, portraits of the station's presenters and a red "On Air" light over the door. It is the home of SoundTown 2003 until the end of the year.

"It is everything we ever wanted, and it is right here," marvels John Mackenzie, the principal art teacher.

It is all part of BBC Radio Scotland's audience identification initiative.

This year, the station had the idea of locating its community base in a school and attracted more than 150 invitations from headteachers. Eight of the schools fitted the BBC's criteria closely enough to be investigated. To Doon Academy's delight, it was chosen.

The staff can only guess at the reasons but they suspect that, with the bright lights of Ayr almost 20 miles away and St John's Town of Dalry slightly further in the other direction, Dalmellington is, for the BBC, a self-contained microcosm of Scotland beyond the central belt.

The same reasons explain the school's jubilation at being chosen. "We are crying out for access to art galleries, theatres and concerts," explains Mr Mackenzie, who has taken on the role of liaison officer, "but we can only manage one or two trips to Glasgow in the year. Now, it seems like Glasgow and Edinburgh have come to us."

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra has made teaching and performance visits. The local community has been in studio audiences and shows such as Beechgrove Garden, to be broadcast on July 6.

The school has been slightly overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the radio station, especially when broadcasting demands began to knock against the examination timetable. However, the teachers have been amazed at the variety of ways pupils have been involved with radio work and the unexpected places learning has cropped up.

They have contributed to discussions on the Gary Robertson show, talked to John Beattie about their sports teams, told Lamont Howie their stories and collected mining reminiscences. Three pupils were invited to tell Mr Robertson about their personal finances.

The three were self-selected, though radio listeners may not believe that.

Pupil A said she received pound;20 a week and saved some in a mini-cash ISA. Pupil B saved some of hers in a Post Office account. Pupil C had pound;40 a week and said he spent it all on "chips 'n' tha' ".

The programme then gave the three a notional pound;100 and a week to spend it. Pupil A bought shares in Next and seven days later the stock had risen 13 per cent. Pupil B did something modest and sensible with hers. Pupil C, because it was the week of the Grand National, put it all on a horse, which lost.

One day Muriel Gray came to record material for her Cover Stories programme. She was to talk to the 13 members of the school reading group, drawn from S2-S4, who usually meet with librarian Kirsten Bax on Thursday lunchtimes, and shadow the judges of the Carnegie Medal for the best children's book.

Two of the reading group were not well that day and two others were exhausted from earlier exertions with the RSNO. Some of the others were nervous but Ms Gray snapped into her winning style, bubbling with encouraging questions. It was hard work at first but the reserve melted, to the point that one of the group even confessed to having written several short stories.

After the group had nominated their favourite books for the BBC's Big Read, one girl asked to reverse roles and interview Ms Gray.

Mr Mackenzie cited this as one example of the benefits brought by the SoundTown 2003 link. These have been apparent not only in talking, listening and purposeful writing (the interviewer's questions) but right across the curriculum, all due to the excitement of when the media circus came to school. This time will long be remembered in a BBCRoyal Bank of Scotland community cup to be presented annually for community work.

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