I came to know Priorsford Elementary by chance. Getting into schools has been much harder than I thought and there have been fewer opportunities for observations and interviews than I had hoped. Due to the abundance of education students doing their placements, the University handles initial connections with schools for general observations, such as mine. Though frustrating, this method is understandable and I was pleased to be encouraged to seek connections with schools that I have personal ties with. It would seem that a person from New England wouldn’t have many ties in Scotland, but as luck would have it - an extended portion of my family lives in many parts of this magnificent country. My sister’s husband is from Fife and his parents still reside there. They were kind enough to connect me with their family members who have children in schools - and thus the ties to Peebles were made. (Thank you, Kerr family!)
Sandra Macgregor, head-teacher at Priorsford Elementary answered my call to visit a school outside of Edinburgh that is encouraging place-based education. Priorsford Primary is a small school in the Scottish Borders - about 30 miles south of Edinburgh. Though it wouldn’t be considered rural by most definitions, there is a strong community presence at the school that one would typically find in a more remote location. When you enter the school, you notice the strong sense of camaraderie right away. See my prior post for more about this. This congeniality is important in a school like Priorsford since working together is integral to providing robust opportunities for the students. Despite being in a semi-affluent area, Priorsford does not employ an art specialist. Pupils at Priorsford rely on their primary classroom teacher to integrate art into their learning as best they can. Strong leadership and visionary qualities of the head teacher encourage teacher collaboration to make use of each faculty member’s strengths. In this way, P4 teacher Teresa Pickburn, a classroom teacher who excels in the arts does her best to help out teachers who are less comfortable with art as best she can. Working with Teresa was a good fit for my observation and I was pleased that our initial meeting ended with us deciding to collaborate on a project.
With a request to fill a large space on the wall with a mural, Ms. Pickburn designed a gridded illustration of Peeble’s landmarks that would display all of the places the children connect with regularly, including the town swimming pool, the local parks, and the river that runs through it all. She and her class explored the town’s landmarks via photographs and discussion when a scheduled walk through the town was thwarted by a winter storm. Students used photographs to guide their drawings and they each chose a landmark that they connected most with. While the illustrated components of our wall mural were in the works, small groups of students ventured into the town to photograph details of these landmarks. These could encompass any bit of interest that captured the students' attention. For example, the stone work that made up the castle or the residents of the nursing home whom the children read to each Friday. The photographs were used as additional details in the final map in the way of flaps and pop-ups and added an interactive quality to the two dimensional work.
For a project like this to be truly place-based it relies on the teacher and students to be immersed in the location that they are illustrating. Merely drawing a building doesn’t offer an avenue for engagement or connection. It is through the discussion, encouraged curiosity, exploration of details, and shared stories that the students begin to feel connected with the map they are creating for their own small town.
I was so honored to be invited to Priorsford to work on this project and had a great time with Mrs.Pickburn's P4 class. Walking across the Priorsford Bridge for the final time after completing the mural left me with the knowing feeling that soon I will be saying goodbye to all of the places in Scotland I have grown so fond of. After getting acquainted with Peebles through the kind students at Priorsford I know I will return to Peebles the next time I travel to Scotland.