Am Bratach No. 255
January 2013

Erin, 12, attends school in Harris to improve her Gaelic

A Bettyhill girl who attended Tongue Primary’s Gaelic-medium classes for her early education is now pursuing her secondary education through two schools to help improve her fluency in Gaelic.

Erin Cook, a 12-year-old first year student at Farr High School, Bettyhill, spent a week in early December attending Gaelic-medium classes at Sir E Scott School in Tarbert, Harris, getting to know pupils of her own age and practising her Gaelic with them. In between what her parents hope will be regular visits to the island, she is a “virtual” pupil, keeping in touch with her Tarbert co-pupils via e-mail and other electronic means.

Social isolation for budding Gaelic speakers is a stumbling block in the Bettyhill area, explained Erin’s mother, Mary. “It is difficult for secondary-age children who live here to converse in the medium of Gaelic outside of the classroom — there’s nobody in the village.

“I started about a year ago trying to find a primary school and a secondary school,” she said, “and approached the local authority over there and tried to sell them the idea, but it was difficult finding schools that would sign up to it.”

Achieving the agreement and support of the Harris schools, teachers and pupils was vital, as was Erin’s eagerness to take part, added Mrs Cook. “I don’t think the island children wanted to give her back!”

Now, others are interested, she said, including a P7 pupil in Tongue who is already engaging with her opposite numbers in Leverhulme Memorial Primary School in Leverburgh. Leverburgh is about twenty miles from Tarbert.

“Yes, we’re far away but the benefits to everybody are long-lasting,” said Mary Cook, whose other daughter, Torria, 17, is in her second year of studying traditional music in Benbecula.

The quango, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, is granted-aiding Mrs Cook’s pioneering scheme.

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