Pupils who put the A into achieve
It's not every pupil who gets a letter from the first minister and an invitation to the Scottish Parliament. But Graeme High's Aaron Reid (S1) is a man on a mission.
"There are plans to build a gas extraction plant near our village," he says. "I think it's dangerous. They built one in Blackpool and they had earthquakes there."
A letter to neighbours seeking their views confirmed the strength of opposition. "I got loads of replies, compiled them all and sent them to Falkirk Council. I wrote to our MSP and to Alex Salmond, asking if they could help."
It's the kind of enterprising spirit the school's high achievement scheme is designed to foster in first-year pupils.
With its origins in a challenge to senior pupils set by Cala Homes - "to design an initiative that would have a significant and lasting impact on their school" - the scheme aims to celebrate achievement and inspire pupils to set personal challenges outside the classroom, says Lorna Lyon, principal teacher of creative arts and wider achievement.
"It starts in S1 and carries through until the end of S3. The model has been designed to echo the Duke of Edinburgh Award categories and the plan is that at the end of S3 pupils could seamlessly go on to working towards those if they want to," she says.
"One reason the scheme is working well is it's been designed and presented to first-years by our fifth-year pupils."
The Duke of Edinburgh Awards stimulated their thinking, Amy McEwan (S5), says. "We took activities from that, put in some of our own and made a huge list of things they could do. The idea was to spark their inspiration."
Activities are organised into three sections, she explains. "There's physical, skills and community involvement. They choose an activity from a different section for each of the three terms. It can be inside school or out and they do them in any order."
As an example of community involvement, Flynn Gray (S1), who is aiming to be a footballer, helps out with his primary school football team, he says. "It's good. You work with your old coach and help them do the drills. I'm not much older than some of the pupils, but they listen to me. I suppose I might be a wee bit more skilful than them now."
Amie Black (S1), who is a keen swimmer and would like to pursue it as a career, raised money for her local hospice, she says. "Quite a lot of money. I did a sponsored swim of 100 lengths and raised over #163;1,100. We've got a giant cheque that we're going to take up to them on Monday morning."
Sarah Tripney (S1) is currently looking for a community project. "Last term I joined the eco-fashion club and made dresses out of recycled materials, like crisp packets and CDs. They said we'd to do a fashion show, so we made them even better. I'm going to talk with my fifth-year mentor about what to do next term."
This aspect of the project really appeals to the juniors, Ms Lyon says. "Each of them has a mentor or verifier among the seniors, who listens to what they have been doing and encourages them. That contact between younger and older pupils is good for both groups and for the school."
Some training is needed for the job of verifier, says fifth-year Amy. "Ms Lyon talked us through various scenarios. Some of them are keen right away when you tell them about the awards. Others need encouragement. Once they're on the scheme, you chat to them in form class - like a group of boys are doing mountain biking, so we ask what they've been doing and what skills they've been learning. Then we tell them to write it in their log book.
"Sometimes I get them to draw pictures - like of their pets, for instance, if they're doing animal welfare. We help them to think and we guide them on what to write to get their awards."
The log books record participants' activities and achievements, Ms Lyon says. "They get a bronze award at the end of first year, working up to gold in third year. The log books ask them to assess themselves at the beginning and again at the end, to set targets and to write up what they've tried and achieved each week. In time, we'll make it electronic and it'll lead into pupil profiling."
The scheme brings benefits all round, Ms Lyon says. "As our teachers see pupils in their classrooms becoming more engaged, they want to get involved. It's gathering momentum. We have a whole achievement award team now. There's a buzz about it."
It brings senior pupils out of their shell too, Amy says. "You have to try to be not too shy. You talk to them and interact with them, so they get to know you and learn from you. It's a really good experience for everyone."
The younger pupils can see the difference in themselves already, Aaron says. "At first I was excited, but I was nervous too. But the older boys have confidence and that rubs off on you. They make us laugh.
"A few teachers don't laugh. I think they should. You can have your limits and have a laugh too."