Gone are the days when a totally out of touch health expert would stand at the top of a class and preach about the dangers about smoking. Thankfully, the days when bullying was brushed under the carpet have also been consigned to the past. Now issues like these are delivered in a way which means they might actually have some impact on the target audience - teenagers.
In St Cecilia’s College, which is a specialisit school for performing arts, a special drama project is tackling topics which have a direct impact on the lives of hundreds of young people. Together with health group Pfizer, drama teacher Elaine Kelly has been working with dedicated groups from years eight and nine in the school, raising their awareness on bullying and the harmful effects of smoking. Both groups have produced plays, written and directed by drama teacher Elaine, which they’ve toured local primary schools to ensure that primary six and seven classes have a chance to discuss challenges they may face as they approach their teenage years.
Elaine says the school have already dealt with a number of controversial subjects through the medium of drama.
“It really engages the young people,” she says.“With these plays we’ve looked at cyber bullying and smoking but we’ve also examined things like anti social behaviour and the throwing of petrol bombs.
“The key thing is that the pieces have been devised by the students themselves.
“The play about cyber bullying called ‘Rumours’ is based on their experiences of the kind of posts they’ve seen on Facebook and other places. It’s about how what young people think are harmful rumours can sometimes get added to online and end up causing problems for the young person being made fun of.”
Elaine says it’s vital to strike the right balance between humour and seriousness when trying to engage primary school children,
“We had to try and keep their attention and the feedback we’ve been getting from the schools we visited is that the messages are really getting across, we’re hoping to take the plays to more primary schools in the near future,”
Praising the young people involved, Elaine believes the project has huge potential in terms of the social impact it can have on the primary six and seven age group across the North West.
“In terms of our anti social behaviour and underage drinking plays, we know the PSNI believe them to be a really effective way of getting the message across. They’ve said they believe it to be an outstanding project and one we can deliver in a cross-community sense as well.”
She also believes being able to meet younger children and performing the plays has given the St Cecilia’s students who have taken part in the Pfizer initiative a great sense of self-belief,
“You can see in the students how much taking part in something like this increases their self-esteem at that age. It’s something we see quite a lot at St Cecilia’s where there’s a strong influence from drama and performing arts. I run a drama club here at the school and we have 70 students signed up. These are things they don’t have to do but they get so much enjoyment back from it. Even with touring these recent plays, the young people put in so much extra effort and were delighted to be taking part. We’re looking forward to exploring more issues like this through drama in the future.”