Flying the community flag

11th July 2008 at 01:00
St Helen's, Condorrat and New Baird Memorial primaries lie streets away from each other, but until recently pupils from one school were unlikely to darken the door of the others
St Helen's, Condorrat and New Baird Memorial primaries lie streets away from each other, but until recently pupils from one school were unlikely to darken the door of the others.

Now, thanks to a new programme, pupils from all three not only mix, but attend lessons in each others' classrooms, delivered by each others' teachers. The North Lanarkshire headteachers claim barriers have been broken down and the wider community of Condorrat brought closer as a result. The achievement was acknowledged at the recent Scottish Education Awards when the schools won the Active Citizenship award.

Alice Quinn, head of St Helen's, said: "In any school and any community, children identify with the school they go to and don't know too much about other schools. We wanted to give our children the opportunity to get to know the children they passed on their way to school. No matter where you are in Scotland there are social issues after dark, after school and at the weekends. Hopefully, this project will let them see they can become friends, not rivals."

Although it involved a denominational and two non-denominational schools, Cathy Johnston, head of Condorrat, insists the project was not about religion. "We decided to make friendship not religion the focus because we don't have a sectarian problem. Sometimes when you focus on something that's not there, you create the problem."

It was about plucking pupils out of "their own little orb" and making them more outward looking, she said. "Even though the children are from the same community, because they go to different schools they did not interact. It caused problems later, at high school."

Condorrat's Gaelic unit added an extra dimension to the project. The unit opened 10 years ago and 145 youngsters are taught through the medium. The project began in 2007, involved around 100 children in three classes and spanned two years of schooling, starting in P6 and continuing into P7. "We felt P6 was a good place to start because they were more mature and we could carry the project into P7, their final year," said Ms Quinn.

Initially, the youngsters got to know each other through co-operative learning activities, like making flags. "Groups of four to six children drew one flag which had to contain one thing each person liked," explained Ms Quinn. "Then they all had to agree what the team banner was called, so they had to co-operate and negotiate."

The active schools co-ordinator organised a series of team games. "Instead of the schools competing against each other, they were in mixed teams and they had to get to know their team mates," she said.

For their next challenge, the pupils had to decide on a project they could work on together in order to cement their new friendships. They settled on a St Andrews Day concert.

The pupils met 14 times to organise the event. Those interested in Gaelic singing and poetry went to Condorrat Primary, where they joined the Gaelic choir and learned two Gaelic songs; those interested in using their ICT skills to research Scottish history met at St Helen's; and those keen to look into the Scottish music and dance scene went to Baird Memorial. All three schools taught Scottish country dancing.

During the ensuing weeks, the children worked in mixed groups at each of the three schools and proactively advertised the event within the community. They encouraged their families and friends to become involved in the preparations for the concert and looked for opportunities to join out-of-school activities with their new friends. They also exchanged Christmas cards.

"Because this was active learning, what they learned will stay with them," Ms Quinn said. "They also learned about what it is to be part of a wider community and the importance of getting to know people and building friendships."

The programme will run again after the summer holidays with the new P7s who are all set to work on a multicultural project. At St Helen's they will study fair trade and Africa, at Condorrat Spain will be the focus, and at Baird Memorial they will look at China and festivals.

P5 is also getting in on the act with their games programme which sees pupils congregate at one of the schools every Friday to play sports.

Next year, Ms Johnston, who retired last month, will not be there to oversee the programme. She is confident, however, it will be a success. "This has established great links that will benefit the community. I feel it's a legacy for the community."

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