Where Miss Dorothy is everyone's friend

15th May 2009 at 01:00
Dorothy is a good friend to Sikeside Primary pupils

She listens to their problems, and tells them how she got through difficult times. As with countless other young girls, once she gets home, the chat continues online.

Dorothy is a fictional character designed to front Miss Dorothy, a website to help children lead happier and safer lives. It is widely used in England, with primaries and secondaries, but Coatbridge's Sikeside Primary is the first Scottish school to try it. "It has caught their imagination and allowed them to talk about their feelings," says principal teacher Karen Johnston. Her school is using the programme with P4-7.

The character is introduced in a "mini-novel", and stories about her life are updated regularly online, where she also keeps a diary. She introduces subjects as diverse as bullying, playing safely, problems at home, risks on the internet and fall-outs in class. Children learn how to recognise the body's signals in any "uh oh" moment. They can email Dorothy with worries and, if necessary, their problem will be referred to a relevant agency.

Mrs Johnston has used other programmes which had similar aims but did not connect with children, especially younger ones, because they were too abstract. She says children could relate to Dorothy because she was an ordinary girl with red hair, freckles, glasses and unremarkable clothes. Her diverse friends - whether in a wheelchair or from an ethnic minority - ensured everyone would find situations relevant to them. Pupils also liked the interactive online element.

Miss Dorothy, whose founder suffered abuse when younger, is being trialled at Sikeside following a Pounds 1,000 donation from Reliance, the company which escorts prisoners to court.

Strathclyde Police has also backed the scheme. The violence reduction unit's Linda Borland says Miss Dorothy is "head and shoulders" better than anything similar, and the programme will be rolled out across Scotland if the trial proves successful.

Despite the positive vibes from Sikeside, however, Mrs Johnston says tightened budgets mean the scheme is not guaranteed to continue at the school.

www.missdorothy.com; www.thekidstaskforce.com.

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