Culture in the community

8th September 2000 at 01:00
Teachers and pupils at Lochend Community High have worked with a team from the US to build pupils' confidence in themselves and their community. Julie Morrice reports

YOU'D BE amazed how little the kids from Easterhouse know about Glasgow, even though it's right on their doorstep," says Andy Keenan, assistant head of Lochend Community High School and manager of a new project which uses state-of-the-art ICT to help build pupils' confidence.

For three weeks during the summer holidays some of Lochend's most vulnerable and disaffected pupils rolled up at school every day to take part in the creation of "a museum of contemporary culture" on the Web.

"There is so much happening in Glasgow, and the great thing about it is that for school parties it's free," says Keenan. The summer programme of visits to galleries and museums, the explorations of the city's, and Easterhouse's, history and significance was recorded by the pupils, both in words and using digital cameras, and has been fed on to the Lochend website back at the school's plush new Media Lab.

A large, informal two-room suite with the latest creative technology, the lab has been funded and designed by Scottish Enterprise Glasgow (SEG) and Learning and Teaching Scotland to encourage demotivated pupils back into education. Teaching staff, psychologists and social workers after guidance.

As well as learning how to use information systems, the pupils are learning how to talk about and present it to others. The excitement of seeing their words and pictures transformed by high-tech equipment into an impressive Internet site is always a hit, but there is more to this project than mouse skills. The technical fluency the pupils are acquiring is a vehicle for teaching self-esteem.

"Information technology systems are a powerful tool. The kids should be technically fluent so that they don't miss out on employment opportunities," says Lochend head Alistair Struthers. "One of the most important things about the project is that it has been created by the kids themselves. This is not something they have been made to do as their work hasn't been up to scratch. It's something they can feel positive about."

Pupils are never blind to the reasons for new educational developments. In the early stages of this project, groups of Lochend pupils were given a three-day training course at Learning and Teaching Scotland. Annette Kerr of SEG tells how one pupil moaned to her: "I'm only here because I've got problems." Kerr was able to point out that some of the highest-achievers from Lochend had done the same course the week before. "When they realise it's not a punitive thing, they get really excited by it," she says.

The summer school is only the first stage in a long-term programme of change and development at Lochend. Methods of learning and teaching are being scrutinised, and staff encouraged to open up to new ideas about the culture of the classroom. This process of development has been shared and assisted by the Lifelong Learning Team from SEG and by staff of the Training and Development Corporation (TDC) from Maine i the US (a private, non-profit-making organisation, which acts as a glorified careers advice service).

In May this year, 12 members of staff from Lochend spent a week in Maine. They were there to see how different ways of teaching and learning can help pupils who do not respond well to the traditional school environment. The group visited a residential school for young people who had dropped out of mainstream education. "These kids came from broken families. They had dropped out or been excluded from school. I immediately recognised that they had the same problems as many youngsters here," says Struthers.

Yet the US pupils exuded confidence. The presentation they made to the visiting teachers displayed impressive communication skills. The group was struck by how the teachers in Maine had managed to engage the young people's interest and enthusiasm.

Norrie Crocker is a staff development specialist with TDC, and she has spent the past six months working with staff at Lochend, getting to know how the school works, and exploring different ways of responding to pupils' needs. "You can try to teach self-esteem," says Crocker, "but really you have to make it part of a wider project."

At the residential school in Maine teachers have stepped aside from the didactic, I-am-here-to-teach, you-are-here-to-learn model. Instead students collaborate with teachers who provide guidance and support.

Student and teacher seek information together. Perhaps most importantly, the students interact with the real world, organising contracts with school suppliers and caterers and taking responsibility for budgets. "They weren't being taught about work, they were learning by doing it," says Struthers.

"The minute you accept that people learn in different ways, you have to accept that there are different teaching styles," says Struthers. The studentteacher relationships that operate during the summer school in the new Media Lab reflect the less formal situation.

The result is a more relaxed and creative relationship. As Struthers points out, the difficulties may come now that staff and pupils are back in the more formal environment of school, and have to rework their relationships once more.

"This is the first major project the Lifelong Learning Team has done with a community school, and it's been a tremendous learning process for us," says Kerr. "It is a key project in the overall strategy to develop continuity of learning throughout Glasgow through ICT in libraries, business premises and colleges."

Lochend's Media Lab will be in use 30 periods a week during the school term, and will be available for community use. Struthers wants to ensure that the project will make a real difference to the future of the school and community. "This has been an educationbusiness partnership par excellence, but it is vital that it's self-sustaining, not just in financial terms, but in terms of skills and attitude. We have to embed it in the culture of the school."

Fusion 2000: Lochend Community High School will give a presentation of its work on September 26 at 11.30am

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