Environmental reputation to be proud of

4th June 2010 at 01:00
Shawlands Academy, with two Green Flags and 12 eco-awards, has been shortlisted for Outstanding Sustainable School of the Year

At first, Basia Gordon felt a little pang when she returned from illness to find the Shawlands Academy eco-club she had nurtured for years getting on fine without her. "Then I realised it was a sign of success, that they were taking the initiative."

It is an aspect of the award-winning environmental activities the pupils particularly appreciate, says Ella Watson, S5. "Miss Gordon is the driving force. But she'll say: `This is what we have to do - now, how do you want to do it?' She submitted us for all the awards we've won, but we had to decide what to talk about. You can't show people everything."

Maybe not, but for the rest of the morning Shawlands Academy does its best. Twelve eco-awards, 20 newspaper articles and three film crews in four years testify to the drive, creativity and environmental awareness at the school in Glasgow's southside. Last year alone, the eco-club designed and sold jute shopping bags and eco calendars. They made films. They bought water hippos, recycling bins and picnic tables.

Energy-saving light sensors are installed in every classroom. There is a thriving bike-hire scheme for pupils and teachers (TESS June 12, 2009). Anything that stops moving gets recycled. "Last year, we doubled our paper and plastic bottles recycling to 11 tonnes," says Miss Gordon.

The high point of this eco- activity for Niamh Sheridan, S5, was an international conference: "It was a big event with lots of companies and eco-schools. It made us feel we were making a difference. The eco-club pushes you to do things, like speaking to lots of people, which can be nerve-racking. But that helps you grow as a person."

Self-development is one incentive, but there is an obvious passion when the pupils talk, and a clear desire to make a difference. "We can't change big things, because we're at school," says Niamh. "But it's rewarding to see the change in the younger pupils. They come in for something to do, but by third-year they're really involved."

It is about changing attitudes, starting with your own, says Susan Phillips, S5. "You think it won't be dramatic. But then it's a great feeling when you look round the school and notice the things that have changed. Like there's a lot less litter now and we've recycling bins everywhere."

One of the most satisfying awards, because of the effort and imagination needed to achieve it, is the Eco Schools Green Flag, says Caitlin Miller, S5. "We now have two, which is an achievement. When you get one, it encourages you to work for the second, and they really help you."

While many of Shawland's eco- efforts are extra-curricular, as a modern languages teacher Miss Gordon is keen to connect with the curriculum. "We get our environmental message across through language and citizenship. French classes have written an educational booklet on climate change and contributed to a magazine. Mandarin and Polish classes took part in a wildlife project," she says.

"We make lots of films. They have immediate impact and convey the environmental message in a memorable way. Pupils gain confidence and skills through presentations and add to their knowledge of the world. They are very articulate - and, to tell the truth, a little bolshie."

Managing this confidence and creativity can be tricky, says head Ann Grant. "But it's the way we have to go in Curriculum for Excellence. We're no longer feeding children information, but developing them as citizens.

"There are still exams and I have to make sure that our academic reputation is maintained and enhanced. Curriculum for Excellence means it is no longer one or the other. It can be both."



Nylon rope is being knotted in the first-year class for non-English speakers, but tongues are moving freely. "We were doing this yesterday in the park," says Ahmed, who comes from Iraq. "It's called a granny knot."

Jerome, from Congo, remembers their previous outing: "There were animals among the weeds and you put them in a specimen bowl. We found a scorpion (sic)and a baby frog."

The Forest Schools programme has been part of the teaching with this class for a few weeks, says their teacher, Karen Weatherstone. "Two of us are working towards the qualification and have been taking classes out for over two years on a variety of activities."

Ailands, from Latvia, remembers a pruning operation in Queen's Park: "We cut holly so the sun can shine on the ground and trees can grow."

"They told us when we walk not to play with the saw like this," says Badr, from Iraq, waving his arm around his head. "That's dangerous. You have to hold it down, like this."

Getting out is ideal for these pupils, says Ms Weatherstone. "Some aren't used to a classroom. Many have suffered trauma. The park is an ideal environment to start their learning across the curriculum. We are all working towards the John Muir Award."

It might be early days for these youngsters, but Jerome has already made up his mind, he says. "I am happy here. The teachers help all the children with their learning."

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