Journeys of a lifetime
"We are all in the same boat," was literally true for an art, storytelling and dance collaboration by 160 pupils aged 9 to18 from Welsh mainstream and special schools. Their efforts culminated in performances at two of the country's most prestigious venues: the Millennium Centre in Cardiff and the Riverfront Centre in Newport.
Guided by artist Megan Lloyd, storyteller Michael Harvey and dancer Fernanda Amaral, pupils from Grangetown primary school, Bryn Deri county primary, St Joseph's RC primary school, Ysgol Erw'r Delyn, St Julian's special unit and Alway primary school, from Cardiff and Newport, some with and some without physical andor learning difficulties, created a huge sailing boat, stories to tell in it and dances to express them.
"It was beautiful to see, because most of the kids had never been in a theatre before, let alone on stage," said Ms Amaral. "One child told his true story about coming here on a boat to flee a war. Others made one up about rescuing monkeys from a zoo, being swallowed by a big fish and sneezed up again when they sprinkled pepper inside it, so they were flung on to Copacabana beach."
Much of the subsequent Brazilian football dance was choreographed by the children, she said.
"There was one boy with a manual wheelchair and as he wheeled himself towards five others on the floor, they rolled as if he was pushing them. It was very powerful. Some of these children could not speak, but they had such a strong presence on stage you couldn't help watching them."
FROM CARE TO COLLEGE
After a childhood in foster and care homes, and spells of homelessness and in a psychiatric hospital, Anna Young seemed the most unlikely candidate for a degree. Yet today she has one, a BA in philosophy from London Metropolitan University. She is working towards another: an MSc in psychology from the Open University. One day, she says, she hopes to have a PhD.
Anna has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Academic achievement has been a very gradual process: at 16 she had no qualifications; over the next seven years at Beaumont college in Lancashire, the Star Centre in Cheltenham, and Hereward college in Coventry, she gained GCSEs in English, law and sociology, as well as independent living skills.
"When I left care I couldn't even boil an egg," she recalls. Now she lives in her own flat. Her advice to students from care backgrounds and those teaching them is that they should never give up.
"People with care backgrounds tend not even to get on to the first rung of the ladder. You have to say to yourself it's better to have a degree with a bad background than a bad background with no degree."
IN TOUCH WITH SIERRA LEONE
"Could you tolerate being in a hot, sticky classroom in a strange country all day? Or in a hotel room and unable to find your way out?"
These are the kinds of questions staff and governors at Dorton House School in Sevenoaks, Kent, asked blind and visually impaired pupils who entered a tough selection process to gain a place visiting their partner school in Sierra Leone this half term.
Dorton House and Milton Margai school for the blind in Freetown have swapped curriculum expertise and penpal letters for more than three years.
Staff from both schools have exchanged visits, and last summer five Sierra Leone pupils came to Sevenoaks.
But this is the first year Dorton House pupils - as represented by Kyle Jones, Year 11, Nicholas Taylor, Year 9, and Leighanne Quinney Year 9 - will go to Africa for 10 days.
Picking them was a tough post-interview decision, says the headteacher, Jude Thompson. Eight pupils applied for the three places.
"The ones we chose said more than that it would be an opportunity of a lifetime. They talked about learning from conditions there, from the way disabled children are treated.
"One of them said very poignantly they would like to go while they still have a little vision left, because ultimately they won't have any.
"We had sleepless nights over choosing: we made it clear it was like a job interview, and we told them our decision as a group. It wasn't comfortable, but they all gained a lot from the process and things like job interviews never are."
BALLET ON CAMERA
When Protein Dance Company visited Lakeside, a school for 65 pupils with educational and behavioural difficulties in Hampshire, Carol Foster, the IT co-ordinator, had a hard time drumming up an audience: "I said Years 10 and 11 had to go into the hall and watch but didn't have to take part. 'Trust me,' I said, 'this isn't ballet'."
What the pupils saw was a vibrant show of hip-hop and breakdancing, and an invitation to make a film. Four accepted. Only three actually danced, says Ms Foster: Sam Bremner, Will Harrocks, and Marc Scoular. A fourth pupil, Aaron Torrington, acted as interviewer in the film the boys devised, based on 15 minutes' fame for a dancing boy band.
It was premiered at The Point Centre of Excellence for Dance in nearby Eastleigh, but the real enthusiasts in the audience came from the dance-wary pupils of Lakeside.
"Often, in schools like this, kids like to put things down. But our students have been coming into classes saying 'Can we see that film again?'
"I was amazed at the co-operation between the kids and the way they worked on the film all day for three days. They'd done this kind of dancing at home, but they'd never been taught. Now they come in and practise their moves on the tables."
Interviews by Karen Gold