Healthy way to kick-start holidays

4th July 2003 at 01:00
Kelso High scrapped its timetable for three days and adopted a creative, fun approach to health promotion to end the year. Raymond Ross reports

Encouraging team spirit is one thing but tolerating all your S1 pupils screaming at the tops of their voices, all together, in the same room, it would be enough to make Mr M'Choakumchild, Dickens's Scottish dominie (Hard Times), turn in his grave.

In the dining area of Kelso High, in the Scottish Borders, the final results of the S1 inter-house health quiz are being announced. The noise is deafening. The only silent being in the hall is a skeleton which was used as a prop during the quiz, but even it seems to be grinning.

This is the end of the first day of the school's health promotion week, a three-day event during which the usual timetable has been suspended and replaced by an array of opportunities for all the pupils to participate in fun and exciting activities to look at health in its broadest sense.

The idea behind the event is to raise awareness of Kelso High as a health promoting school in the run up to 2007, when all schools have to attain this status. It is also a fun but purposeful way to end the summer term.

Not all the activities create noise: in the popular relaxation sessions, stillness and silence reign. In the reflexology classes, visiting expert Philip di Ciacca concentrates on the hands of volunteer pupils while quietly demonstrating foot and shoulder massage on willing members of staff.

Health promotion week is an all-school initiative. The quiz was being run by the history department; the reflexology sessions are being overseen by a maths teacher.

Home economics is running a healthy food cookery challenge and, in conjunction with the art department, is involved in a competition to design T-shirts promotinge good health. Perhaps the cleverest one of the first day shows Bob Marley sucking on a large carrot, looking rather like a cigar, with the word "organic" emblazoned in capital letters above his face. Below is the slogan "Eat ur veg Don't smoke da hedge".

The technical studies department has produced "trees" for the school entrance hall, on to which pupils are sticking pledges in the shape of leaves. At least one reads: "I pledge to eat more veg."

An environmental action team of pupils, overseen by the biology department, is testing carbon dioxide levels in the classrooms. Working alongside professional scientist Iain Edwards, of Futurity UK, the team plans to monitor pupils in classrooms with and without plants to see if there is any significant difference in their learning ability.

"A recent report from Reading University shows that CO2 levels in classes can often exceed those recommended by as much as 500 per cent, which means the learning ability of pupils can be impaired," explains Carol Lesenger, assistant principal teacher of physical education and the health promotion week co-ordinator. "House plants are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to improve air quality in the classroom environment."

One of the groups coming to visit the school is Tree of Knowledge. "They look at positive thinking, team building, confidence and self-esteem," says Mrs Lesenger.

"They have already engaged with the staff during an in-service day. They even did a session on laughing which - I kid you not - had a major effect on the staff. People were going around laughing for days. I hope it has the same effect on the pupils."

Bringing in outside experts is a key part of the health promotion week.

Others include a nutritionist from Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh, dance tutors, members of the local rugby and cricket clubs and martial arts tutors.

One of these is Lois Turnbull, a sixth-year leaver (returning as a paid professional tutor) who is a black belt in kick-boxing and was British Junior Champion at the age of 15. Lois, who is going to Newcastle University to study modern languages in the autumn, also has a purple sash in kung fu.

"Health promotion week is aimed at equipping pupils with the knowledge and skills to make lifestyle choices in relation to diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol, sexual and mental health and drugs," says Mrs Lesenger.

"In the weeks leading up to this we set up a breakfast club; we are providing free fruit - very popular - for the week; and the promotion of health is now part of the school's development plan.

"For a school to be health promoting, you have to impart knowledge of what is beneficial and what is harmful, develop skills to use that knowledge effectively, develop systems to recognise pupils' achievements and stimulate social activities such as music, dance, drama and sports. All of this, we believe, will have a positive impact on ethos and achievement.

"I think the week will help to build relationships between the staff and pupils too and this will impact positively on teaching and learning.

"The enthusiasm of the pupils has been tremendous," she says.

Watching a breakdance session, it is obvious how much the pupils are concentrating, quickly picking up complex moves, rhythms and balances, and how much they are enjoying it.

Maths teacher Jean Reynolds is reaping benefits from overseeing the reflexology sessions. "It allows me to develop a different relationship with the pupils and to meet pupils I don't teach," she says. "I've also learned a lot about reflexology and experienced it too with Mr di Ciacca doing my feet and hands.

"The session, though, is geared towards the pupils, concentrating on growing physically, on posture and on how, as they grow, they might react to things differently.

"The whole event is highly educational and well worth changing the timetable for," she says.

"Organising a complex curriculum which offers pupils a choice from more than a dozen options each day is logistically challenging but very worthwhile," agrees Mrs Lesenger.

Kelso High headteacher Charles Robertson praises the commitment of his staff to organise health promotion week. "It has to be an important issue to persuade secondary schools to cancel the entire curriculum over three days. Health promotion is one of these," he says.

"The activites over this week will form the launch pad for our aim to have health promotion firmly embedded in the curriculum of the school by 2004."

An extra benefit of the school working with so many professionals and the local community in planning the week is that it has helped to build and cement outside relationships, which can only be for the good of the school, says Mrs Lesenger.

"There will also be an immediate practical extension with pupil involvement in summer activities run by the two local sports co-ordinators. We will monitor this involvement."

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