It's an all-singing, all-dancing ice breaker

22nd April 2011 at 01:00
A sixth-former is boosting first-years' confidence at the Glee Club

Slightly built and quietly spoken, Catherine Exposito is not an obvious choice to control a bunch of fizzing first-years. "There were 70 of us at the first session of the lunchtime Glee Club I set up," says the sixth-year student at Our Lady's High in Cumbernauld, who has just been named peer educator of the year.

"It seemed a huge amount of people to control. Numbers have dropped a little but we can still get 40. They kinda listen now, though. There are techniques you can use." She lowers her voice to a whisper. "Like if you speak really quietly, they go `I wonder what she's talking about', and stop and listen."

She chuckles. "Other times you project your voice. But you don't shout. If you did, they wouldn't come out of their shells. You create an environment where they can be themselves.

"I get them all in a circle and tell them what we're going to do, so they don't feel lost. It's their club too, so I also listen to their ideas."

The Glee Club is about learning to sing, dance and put on a performance. But there is more to it, says depute headteacher Tracy McGee, who nominated Catherine for the award. "The club was her idea. She asked if she could set it up because she wanted to drive something forward to help younger children get more out of school.

"That's what Curriculum for Excellence is all about. The more pupils get involved, the more they want to do - and do well."

High school can be hard for new arrivals, Catherine explains. "It's girls being girls and boys having to act tough. But the people who come to the club are comfortable now, not scared to contribute."

Down in the assembly hall a big group of Glee Clubbers look anything but scared, as they pose, dance and jump high in the air. They seem confident and extrovert. But they weren't always, they say.

"In primary school you got made fun of if you hit a wrong note," says Eilidh Jones. "It was different here from the start. Catherine encouraged us all."

Nodding heads suggest similar experiences. All the Glee-Clubbers here lacked confidence in singing and dancing - and often themselves - when they came to high school, they say.

"I thought if there was a few people who felt the same as me, we could overcome our fears together," says Amy Murphy.

"Also you could help people if they felt the same as you," says Darcy Jones. "Teachers sometimes don't listen to you. But if you have an idea, Catherine will listen and maybe put it in. She does a lot for your confidence."

"I love singing," says Connor McGlaughlin. "I don't mind that Liam and I are the only boys here. You do what you're comfortable with."

Like the majority of her young charges, Catherine aims to take her interest in music and drama seriously beyond school, she says. "There's a new course at Napier University - acting and English. That gives you lots of possibilities, like directing, writing, teaching, acting."

She is ambitious, but not for herself alone, she says. "I don't like competitiveness. It can affect the creativity of a team. You need to give everyone their say."

The Glee Club is a team effort. "My friends Helen and Jennifer have worked with me from the start. Then there is Liam McGrath, who is in second year. He is so full of ideas and energy and will keep the club going next year when I leave."

The young performers are all stars, Catherine says. "At the start you got people saying they just wanted to dance at the back. Now they are asking if they can do solos, and I'm like `absolutely - on you go!'"

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