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A Scottish clipper, some Scottish whisky and a Scottish saint !

April 11, 2010

A busy schedule on the final day of the trip. Firstly there was a photocall and viist,

The Superintendent of the Marine Park and his deputy on board the Balclutha

arranged to promote the new Glasgow Riverside Museum. It took place, appropriately enough, at the San Francisco Maritime Museum, an open air display of ships and boats which includes the  Glasgow built   Balclutha , a sister ship to the Glenlee which sits on the Clyde  and indeed the restored rigging of the Glenlee was done by someone who works in the San Francisco Museum !

I am always fascinated by historic ships and I would have happily spent the rest of the morning with the very knowledgeable senior staff of the Maritime National Historic Park.  Even better would have been to go with them on one of the voyages they arrange around the Bay – for which a group of school children was just preparing as we stood on the deck of the square rigged ship.  Instead I was whisked off to my next engagement, a meeting with the organiser of the Adventure Travel Association  at the British Consulate which is holding its world summit in Aviemore later this year.    Building and strengthening links with organisations such as this is vital to ensure that Scotland continues to reap the economic benefits of world tourism as it develops.   We had a good and detailed discussion about what help the Scottish Government could give to make the event even more successful and we also touched on making sure that culture  and climate change were  at the heart of what the delegates experienced, as those involved in adventure travel now want to make sure there is a broad and sustainable agenda for all their clients.

It was then off to another Visit Scotland photocall, this time to promote  Whisky Live in the USA.   This took place  in Union Square in the busy  heart of the city – a fair challenge when the photo call consists of two Highland Games athletes, each holding an enormous and very heavy whisky barrel alongside an elegant Scottish dancer, a good young  piper and two flags.    Adding in one of the iconic San Francisco trolley cars  as a backdrop

One of the famous trolley cars

turned out to be more difficult than anticipated, but I am sure that all those involved enjoyed the experience  – some of the most prominent Scots in the city Scottish associations had come along to have a chat and enjoy the sunshine !    After the pictures I briefly visited the Scottish Whisky shop in San Francisco which has a tremendous stock of things Scottish and which seems to be very popular.

Now it was time for my final school visit of the week – a  trip to the suburbs and to the  KIPP Bayview Academy.  KIPP stands for the Knowledge Is Power Programme and their schools across the USA work within the public system in each state but have chartered status.    The schools serve deprived areas , and in this case a largely African American population where there has traditionally been low school achievement.

KIPP Bayview

KIPP specialises in very intense education – the hours are longer and the pupils are  more regimented than you would see in any Scottish state school (and perhaps even in some private ones).   When we were there one class of 8th graders was made to go back out of the building and come in again, in a crocodile and in perfect silence.  The pupils had not done it right the first time !!

The focus is on achievement and specifically on getting to, and graduating from, College.   I was very struck by the fact that in asking a class about what University they wanted to go to, every single one knew and also knew what they wanted to study.  This from children aged about 11.

Certainly the figures are impressive.  In other schools serving this population the  High School graduation rate would be below 40%  – here it is above 90.   Inspirational School leadership and high quality teaching is very much to the fore  and there is no denying that  children from the KIPP school consistently win good scholarships to further education.

With the KIPP Bayview School Principal

However most Scottish parents and most Scottish educators would find the formality and intensity of these schools  a little off putting  I think, and a little reminiscent of what much of Scottish education has spent a generation trying to get away from.    Our curriculum for Excellence is much more joined up and focussed on the individual.   But it works for some and clearly is vitally important for children who would otherwise become mired in low expectation and serial failure.   Food for thought, definitely.

It was early afternoon by the time we arrived back at the San Francisco Piers, where I had a late lunch with Ben Kycera of the Cyark Foundation and his wife Barbara.   I had met them in Glasgow last year at the World Digital Imaging Conference and have seen Ben twice since then, including at Mt Rushmore last July.    Historic Scotland  , the Glasgow School of Art and the Foundation are now deeply into the Scottish 10 programme and it was good to catch up with him and hear about progress in this fascinating area of  work.

The on to the final round of engagements – two events with the Sierra Club – the world’s oldest and probably largest environmental organisation –  to honour their founder, the great Scottish expatriate John Muir.  Muir – the saint or apostle of environmentalism according to most accounts – was from Dunbar but he is much much better known in the USA (where he founded the National Park movement and laid the foundations for the whole way in which America sees its outdoors) than in Scotland though that is changing and it was good to  convey to those at the tree planting a message from the curator of the Muir Birthplace in East Lothian , where the Council has in recent years started to promote the link with Muir.

Planting a tree for John Muir

The first part was a tree planting ceremony in the Presidio  National Park, which sits right next to the Golden Gate Bridge. I always enjoy being amongst trees given their vital importance to our climate change challenge and also because I loved my work with the Forestry Commission when I was Environment Minister so this was tailor made for me – and for the dozen or so children who did most of the hard work with spades !

The after a brief tour which included going over the Golden Gate Bridge and down to the lovely little community of  Sausalito ( about which over the last 24 hours no less than four of my friends had texted me or emailed me to tell me to visit )  it was time for a reception for Sierra Club Members at which Carl Pope, the President of the Club and I  made speeches about Global Warming.  There is huge interest everywhere  in what Scotland has done in its Climate Change Bill but even I was surprised at the warmth of my reception  here and the spontaneous applause at various stages of my account, including when I mentioned that the Scottish Government  was against new nuclear power plants.

The reception was held in a log cabin within the Park area, and it was a very pleasant way to end the week.   But by the time I got back to the hotel I was very conscious of the fact that I would be leaving again by 5.00am and I still had to pack my case.  So I left  this blog  until my journey home !

The Golden Gate from the Presidio

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