Jill Tunstall visits Conwy's only bilingual school
THE school hall is alive with voices as pupils sing a traditional Welsh song surrounded by the colourful flags of many nations. Welcome to Ysgol Craig-y-Don, Conwy's only bilingual school, where the ethos is to give the 450 pupils a sense of place in both their own community and the wider world.
Which is why the headteacher, Marc Hughes, recently battled through terrifying snowdrifts to reach... not this primary, a minute's walk from the beach at Llandudno, but another in a remote area of Turkey.
"This year we are linked with schools in Turkey, Romania, Poland and Greece through the British Council-funded Comenius scheme, and I get to visit each one," he explains. "In Turkey, the school is very different to ours here, in a remote city, with a different culture, where religion is a big part of their lives. It certainly taught me a few things about how we see people."
This he intends to pass on to his pupils, whose faces light up when they receive parcels from their partner schools.
"A little boy told me that he had had an email from a boy in the Polish school who had been eating a Kit Kat as he wrote. He couldn't believe they ate Kit Kats in Poland, just like him."
There are bigger lessons to be learned: the pupil's enthusiasm for their project work is heightened by the knowledge that it will be sent abroad.
"It plants the seed that there's more out there than just this local area.
And then, when they go to secondary school, they will want to learn the foreign languages on offer," says Mr Hughes. To many of his pupils, Welsh is also a foreign language: 99 per cent are from English-speaking homes.
"Five years ago, staff proposed that 25 per cent of classes be taught in Welsh, placing it mid-way between English and Welsh- medium schools.
"We encourage the children to speak Welsh as much as possible. There's an award each week for the child who has tried the hardest," says Mr Hughes.
"They come home with a new word every day," she enthuses.
This commitment to Welsh - which begins with the three-year-olds in the nursery classes - has clearly paid off. A trophy cabinet in the school hall groans under silverware collected at the many cultural festivals, including first prize in the prestigious National Eisteddfod choir competition. Hence the activity in the school hall. And if they win again you can safely bet on a cross-Europe celebration.
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