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Visions of good living

A mobile classroom is warning young children about drugs and promoting healthy lifestyles, reports Bill Mackie

A seven-year-old girl with bright red hair and freckles tells her class solemnly: "My grandad died. Of smoking. So my mummy and daddy have stopped smoking."

The sad disclosure comes during an unusual lesson in an unusual classroom at Cultercullen Primary. The significance is that she has already learned from family experience something about the importance of healthy living.

A healthy lifestyle is the message that Lesley Shepherd, resident educator of the Aberdeenshire Life Education Centre, is trying to impart as she tours schools with a caravan classroom.

ALEC is a three-year project that was launched last February by the authority in a partnership with nine local Rotary clubs and is the first of its kind in Scotland. It caters for 16,500 nursery to Primary 7 children at 120 schools in north and central Aberdeenshire.

The caravan is kitted out with audio-visual aids and electronic body and brain models. Ms Shepherd says: "It is good to bring a facility like this, with all its equipment, to rural schools which don't have the resources at hand.

"These lessons on health and lifestyle support teachers in what they do within the 5-14 curriculum guidelines. The project is devised for nursery to P7 and the reaction from the teachers has been good."

Ms Shepherd, a former primary teacher, uses imaginative drama strategies to encourage decision-making skills and change pupils' attitudes to their bodies. One of the key thrusts of the programme is drug misuse, beginning at Primary 4-5.

"Drugs education has to be a holistic approach, part of healthy lifestyle learning," she says. "If pupils can understand how the body works to stay healthy, then they will maybe understand how it can be affected by drugs.

"You can't just teach kids about drugs as a standalone topic. It has to be integrated into the school curriculum. And out of school, parents have to send out the same message as the schools."

Ms Shepherd explains that the ALEC project evolved after some members of Ellon Rotary saw a Lifestyle Education mobile classroom operating at their international conference. Lifestyle Education is a national charity and mainly a drug prevention organisation. "They were so impressed, they borrowed one for a pilot study in 1996-97," she says. "Eventually they persuaded clubs from Alford, Banff, Fraserburgh, Huntly, Inverurie, Oldmeldrum, Peterhead and Turriff to raise money for their own mobile classroom and to pay an educator."

The project recently received a community health impact award from Glaxo Smith Kline UK.

"The vision eventually would be to get another mobile classroom and cover the whole of Aberdeenshire," says Ms Shepherd, "and ultimately, hopefully, the whole of Scotland."

ALEC, tel 01224 664882 or 07748 080407

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