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Six slices of PiE – Partners in Excellence

Six PiE immersion trips to Spain since 2001 – all organised and led by Mark Pentleton, PiE co-ordinator and past pupil of St Michael’s. Staff included myself, Elaine Allan, Hugh McCormick, Louise Donnelly (another past pupil), and Maria, a former Spanish assistant and now a teacher of Spanish. Pupils were from West of Scotland schools. On one trip there were six from St Michael’s Academy, on others two.

Our only trip to mainland Spain was to Tarragona, a beautiful, historic town near Barcelona. Staying in a university complex, we woke to a hooter followed by really awful music, but Mark calmed us with “Volare”. Breakfast included hard rolls – one artistic pupil made them into Dutch clogs.

A very educational week! – a tour of a Roman museum (some pupils thought the guide was speaking in Catalan, not the Spanish they knew!), an enthralling talk on Roman walls (ending at a fountain, whose waters could make us attractive to the opposite sex – pupils rushed to test its power), and a specially prepared Roman meal (with the scrawniest chicken legs we had ever seen).

At a secondary school, our pupils went into classes and talk Spanish to real Spaniards of their own age. In the village of Sante Creus, we conducted our first survey – a Belgian lady did a Highland fling when asked what she knew about Scottish customs! Our very own Gemma and Karen were delighted to have interviewed most people.

At Camp Nou we did a Mexican wave and Mark gave us a rendition of Nessun Dorma. However, on the famous Ramblas in Barcelona, our pupils seemed more interested in the McDonald’s restaurant than in Gaudi’s architecture.

The pupils on the five trips to Mallorca enjoyed better hotels and the food was “well good”. The first hotel was 53 minutes from the centre of Palma – Marie Claire Padden’s blistered feet bore witness.

Mark worked us everywhere on the buses, on the beach, on the train to Soller, by the swimming pool, in the hotel and in the main square.

We spent days in different secondary schools – San Pacs (twinned with St Andrew’s), Juniper Serra, our twin school, and Santa Monica’s (a private school). We chatted to pupils in our best Spanish. Although most pupils were terrified at the thought, going into classes was usually a highlight, with many exchanges of phone numbers and e-mail addresses. We taught even more pupils how to dance the Gay Gordons. On our first visit to Juniper Serra we video-conferenced with teachers and pupils of St Michael’s and Saint Andrew’s. Seeing Mr McLaughlin’s and Mr Allan’s faces beaming down on us was a bit scary.

During each trip a survey would be carried out in the main square in Palma, sometimes in the rain but usually in the sun. Whatever the weather, we entertained the locals with our highland dancing wherever and whenever Mark decided it was appropriate.

One morning was always spent at the market in Sineu where pupils practised their Spanish haggling for bargains. It is amazing how many euros can be saved with a smile and a few words of Spanish or Catalan. At the Caves of Drac we were all amazed at the stalagmites and stalactites and delighted by the little boats on the lake and by the classical music played by the pianist on one of them.

Evenings were spent working in groups writing up the day’s events in Spanish and using our interactive web site. Then we would go to a Karaoke bar and entertain the locals with our delightful singing or spend time bowling or playing pool at Porto Pi. This gave pupils a chance to practise the language with the youth of the area.

The success of these trips can be gauged by the number of students, including some from St Michael’s, who have gone on to study Spanish at university and by the close friendships which have developed among the teachers involved in both Scotland and Palma.

Mrs J Buchert

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