She looks like any other carefree 16-year-old - a pretty girl with a confident smile and a pleasant manner, but Stephanie Doyle had a difficult time after she left school this summer and her self-confidence was at an all-time low.
"I couldn't go out. I was just frightened to go out of the house. I lost all of my confidence. Just a few months ago I was really, really bad," says the Angus teenager, who left Webster's High in Kirriemuir after fourth year.
Beside her is 16-year-old Aidan McKellar, who joined her on Stepping Stones, a personal skills development programme led by Angus Council and run at the YMCA in Montrose. It's one aspect of a personalised Activity Agreement they've signed up to complete, a customised learning plan supported by a key professional. And so far it appears to be making a difference to their lives.
Activity Agreements have been piloted across 10 local authorities and are now part of the Curriculum for Excellence, in line with the Scottish Government's More Choices, More Chances strategy to reduce the numbers of young people not in employment, education or training.
Part of this strategy is the 16+ Learning Choices model, encouraging school leavers to continue learning beyond the age of 16 and identify a positive destination.
Stephanie had enjoyed school and planned to study hair and beauty at college. "I didn't get into college and my careers adviser told me about the Stepping Stones project. I thought I would give it a go and really liked it," she says.
Angus first piloted its Stepping Stones programme two years ago. It includes work experience, team building, fun outdoor activities, information about sexual health, drugs and alcohol, sessions on budgeting and opportunities to learn more about the world of work.
"It's helped me build up my confidence, meet new friends, learn new things - because I wasn't confident before," says Stephanie, who is coming to the end of the eight-week programme.
"I'm doing something. I'm not at home, I'm not lazing about. I've got new friends that I really like and get along with and I am so much more confident. It's unbelievable," says Stephanie, who is doing work experience in a hairdressing salon in preparation for college.
Sixteen-year-old Aidan Mackellar left Montrose Academy this summer. Like Stephanie, he has a pleasant manner and appears quietly confident as the end of the Stepping Stones programme approaches.
Life so far has not always been easy for Aidan. "School didn't really go well from primary, so I thought I would leave and apply for college, but I never got in," he says.
"I think I had anger issues for a while and I got them sorted out. After that, I think I just wanted to muck about all the time, not wanting to do what I was told."
But this project has helped him move forward. "I have just grown up a bit and realised you've got to do things you don't like. It's just the way it goes," he says.
Through Stepping Stones, Aidan is getting work experience in the kitchen at a local hotel and is thinking about future options.
"I am away to try and get funding for my football coaching badge as well," he says. "It's been good finding out about employability and how employers feel about things."
Confidence is the vital ingredient that drives successful young people and a key objective in the Activity Agreement's individual learning plans.
"I think this helps them build their confidence - I think that is the big thing," says Pauline Singer, More Choices, More Chances key worker on the Angus programme.
Ms Singer is from the community learning and development department and is the main contact for two of the six young people on this Stepping Stones project.
In Angus, partners from a range of agencies have been trained as main contacts who will help young people draw up bespoke learning agreements. Other partners are Skills Development Scotland, which advises on employability, and Enable Scotland, which works with young people who have additional support needs.
The Activity Agreements are designed to last nine months and can be extended. "So it's not just about getting them into a destination - it's helping them sustain that as well," says Ms Singer.
"This process is to make sure no one slips through the net," says Lisa Gilfillan, 16+ learning choices co-ordinator with Angus Council. She works closely with Angus schools, identifying school leavers who may be in need of support.
"We were unable to provide Angus-wide, so we decided to set up a centre of provision in the Montrose and Brechin area, which had one of the higher levels of young people moving into a negative destination," Mrs Gilfillan explains. "This is the first cohort of Activity Agreements and our second Stepping Stones programme, because we had a pilot one."
If young people are not ready to progress at the end of Stepping Stones, they can explore further learning opportunities with their main contact, hopefully leading to full-time education, training or work.
"For some, it can be lack of confidence, lack of self-esteem, lack of social skills. Some have been disengaged from school for a period of time. They can be anti-authority, they can have very chaotic home lives, so attendance and being on time can be a major barrier," says Mrs Gilfillan.
"The programmes aren't based in school and they're very individual. Once young people leave school, that's when they sometimes realise they need help. And if they can have one person who's identified to support them, that can help to draw them in."
- Original headline: Teenagers find stepping stones lead to personal development