Hey you, what's that Sound?;Basic skills

4th June 1999 at 01:00
How do you keep the 72 pupils on an Orkney islandin touch? Sponsorship from industry brought new ways of communicating. Simon Midgley reports

Sanday Junior High School, serving the small northern Orkney island of Sanday, has just 72 four to 16-year-old pupils. Last summer it won sponsorship worth pound;7,000 from Barclays' New Futures scheme - the UK's largest education sponsorship venture aimed at benefiting local communities - to help it develop a monthly community newsletter and environmental wildlife magazine.

The idea was that the pupils should transform the island's newsletter, Sanday Sound, from an embryonic typewritten single sheet into a more professional effort done to desktop publishing standards with photographs and laser printing.

The teachers used to gather information about forthcoming events for the newsletter, which was then typed up by a school secretary and distributed through the island's two shops. In November the school's secondary age children, the 23 12- to 16-year-olds, took over entire responsibility for publishing the newsletter and wildlife magazine, published 10 months of the year.

The headteacher, Jacqueline Story, says: "We wanted the children to make decisions about the newsletter, control it and ask the community about what it wanted to see published in it. We wanted them to learn how to word process, desktop publish, take photographs and incorporate them in the newsletter, and then organise each other into making delivery rounds.

"Community is very important here and learning through community service is an ideal opportunity."

Sanday, which has a population of 500 people, two shops and two hotels, is 20 miles long and between half a mile and three to four miles wide. Its main industry is farming. The school is probably the island's biggest employer.

There are three primary teachers, three full-time and one part-time secondary teacher and four other specialist secondary teachers who fly in one day a week to teach subjects such as music, technology, PE and home economics. Many of the islanders work as cooks, cleaners or auxiliaries in the school.

Between Christmas and Easter, the island was virtually cut off from the mainland and other islands because its airfield was underwater and many ferries were undergoing winter refits.

The environmental magazine, Word of the Wild, is the school's vehicle for teaching children about IT skills. All pupils have two periods a week where they write about environmental issues, which are then incorporated in the environmental newsletter.

The pupils have taken over responsibility from the teaching staff for producing this magazine as well. The children also formed a publications committee which is responsible for producing both magazines.

"They have completely changed both publications," Jacqueline Story says. "What they look like and the way they are produced. They have made them their own.

"The committee work involved has given them confidence and skills of organisation and management that we could not have given them in any other way in the context of a junior high school with so few pupils."

After the 12-year-olds met other pupils of the same age from other schools in the northern isles last summer following a trip to Hoy, they regularly communicate with each other via video conferencing. Word of the Wild now includes environmental news from the other northern isles as well.

"We thought that our kids could develop highly refined IT skills and become very comfortable and competent with technology," Ms Story says. "And also develop through managing these projects themselves the skills of enterprise and business management.

"I think the kids, who have never met widely children of their own age, are remarkably outgoing and confident and they also have very high level IT skills. They can competently word process, desktop publish and use the internet.'' Developing IT capability is one way the school can try to give pupils the skills they need to be able to return to live and work on the island after they have completed their education. The island's population already includes a cartoonist and an electronic encyclopedia editor.

Imparting such skills may help to slow down the steady decline in the island's population - 100 years ago Sanday had a population of 2,000. It is also hoped that the Word of the Wild project will create a sense of identity with other island children and reduce their sense of isolation and drive to leave.

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