Cultures and creativity combine

13th July 2012 at 01:00
At St Machar Academy, 200 pupils from a roll of 900 are from overseas. What better way to celebrate each other's similarities, differences and successes than with Multicultural Week? Jean McLeish reports

When he came to Aberdeen from Poland six years ago as an 11-year-old schoolboy, Dawid couldn't speak a word of English. Now the fifth-year boy has given a fluent presentation about his homeland in English to pupils at St Machar Academy in Aberdeen.

Dawid's friends Milosz and Mikolha helped to deliver the talk to second- years, giving insights into the culture and lifestyle of their native country, as part of the school's multicultural week.

The boys described the hot summers they miss at home and how they would have to pay for pencils, books and jotters back in Poland. They find the Aberdeen granite skyline grey compared with their own brightly coloured houses and sunshine.

Dawid Guzik, 17, says he couldn't speak English when he started primary school six years ago - "It was a new experience and it was kind of fun" - but now he is sitting his Highers next year.

Polish teenagers form a significant group at this school where more than 200 children in a roll of 900 are from overseas countries including Tibet, China, Nigeria, Nepal and Lithuania.

"Fortunately, there are a lot of Polish people in my year - about 30 out of almost 200," says Dawid's co-presenter Mikolha Sawicki, 17, who wants to study physics at university.

Depute headteacher Janice Duncan organises Multicultural Week with colleagues and pupils. It has developed into a busy event since it started 10 years ago - now featuring an international breakfast, a quiz, concert and presentations.

In their talks, children are able to share their experiences, providing first-hand accounts of daily life in their home countries - insights their classmates would be unlikely to find online or in textbooks.

It is a chance to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of young people who arrived in Scotland as slightly bewildered young children and have grown into confident teenagers. And teachers who work hard to raise attainment at this school take pride in their success.

This year, for the first time, the week was run with the charity Multi Ethnic Aberdeen, to include Respect for All workshops exploring issues around faith, sexuality, disability and race.

St Machar Academy is less than half a mile from the University of Aberdeen, so overseas children whose parents are studying or teaching there often live nearby and come to the local school.

"We have also got a large area of local authority housing. So quite often when people are moving into the city from overseas, they apply for local authority housing and, because of the high level of local authority housing in the area, they come into our catchment area as well," Mrs Duncan says.

Sixteen-year-old Monika Sapkota is in sixth year and arrived here from Nepal just three years ago. She is planning to study medicine, depending on her Higher results, but if she doesn't get the grades, she says she will persevere and may take a longer route through biomedical sciences.

She is enjoying this school: "In our dining table we have so many different people, like my friend Hannah here from the Philippines and others from Poland, Lithuania and Pakistan. It's really good."

These young people have high aspirations and determination -Monika's friend Hannah Galicia, 16, is from the Philippines.

"First I was thinking of doing nursing, but I switched to medicine. Like Monika says, we don't care how long it takes us, so long as we get there," says Hannah.

Monika has found this school welcoming and the pupils hospitable: "Scottish people are really outgoing and they are helpful and polite," she says.

Hannah jokes about a warning she got in primary school before she came to the academy: "People said you get your head flushed down the toilet, but that was just a rumour - it's not true," she laughs.

`OTHER PEOPLE GET A CHANCE TO LEARN ABOUT YOUR CULTURE'

At the last count, 34 different languages were spoken at this school. More than a quarter of the children are from an international background, which creates a range of in-house opportunities for learning and global citizenship.

Reported incidents involving racism are rare, according to depute head Janice Duncan, who organises Multicultural Week.

"We pride ourselves at St Machar Academy in welcoming all and having respect for all. This is about tolerance and it's about celebrating what's different, as well as what's similar in everybody," she says.

In the recent Passport to the World session, there were presentations by children of all ages from countries such as the Philippines, Hungary and Iran.

The new second-years also heard about the way of life in Nigeria, the religions and languages of India and the favourite foods in Nepal.

It gave new information for teachers and a chance to pose the questions they might otherwise hesitate to ask.

Sixth-year Mary Amidu talked about the tribal traditions of Nigeria, passing round snacks from her country for pupils to try.

"I like doing this because other people get a chance to learn and know about your culture," she says.

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