The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award has been running in NSW, Australia since 1962 and it first began in the UK in 1956. The Award has three levels: Bronze, Silver and Gold, open to participants between the ages of 14 and 24. Hopeful Dukies must commit themselves to volunteer work, learning a skill and maintaining a level of physical activity. They must also complete Adventurous Journeys of increasing length and difficulty. An Adventurous Journey is typically a hiking/camping trip, but it could be anything requiring teamwork and survival skills.
A child who wants to gain their Award can choose to hike with an external provider, or, if they’re lucky enough, a dedicated co-ordinator might exist at their school. Our school has two such co-ordinators. A male teacher with plenty of navigating and hiking experience who has no trouble getting absolute compliance from every student, and a female teacher who maps out the hikes, recruits supervising teachers, convinces the Principal to let us go, and motivates and helps the kids to complete all of their paperwork. At our school, year 9s complete Bronze, year 10s complete Silver and year 11/12s complete Gold. There is plenty of room for crossover if kids don’t fit the same timeframe as others, provided all paperwork is finished and submitted by the 25th birthday of the applicant.
I do not have the Award at any level.
However, this weekend, I got to facilitate fifty year 9 students with getting theirs, and it was pretty amazing!
I was nervous and excited when I was recruited to the Dukes team at the end of last year. I was concerned that I would not be fit enough to finish a Bronze overnight hike, let alone a weeklong Gold hike. It only took me one term as a teacher to gain weight, become unfit and to catch every disease the students got. My immune system is better equipped for the school environment now, but I have not gained back the fitness level I had prior to teaching. I was also concerned about the dynamics of student-teacher relationships outside of a school setting. After discussing my inexperience, we decided that I would begin this year with the Bronze students and follow them through to Gold so that I could progressively learn the whole process and become a co-ordinator as well as a walker.
This weekend was my third hike with the Bronze kids and they have really grown! The first was a day walk to prove that they could hike. One sprained ankle and four girls who vehemently refused to urinate in the bush were the only major events. However, it became apparent after this hike that six teachers alone could not control such a large group of students. So the existing female co-ordinator cut a deal with the Gold Dukies: as part of their own volunteering, they could come along on the Bronze hikes as mentors and helpers. Those students have proved invaluable in teaching me the do’s and dont’s of Dukes, the customary card games and how to read a map. For the second Bronze walk, each teacher took a group of ten year 9s, and the year 11s met us at night. This was where I made my first rookie error: I gave the Bronzies the maps and told them to lead on. We hiked for quite a while before they decided they were lost and turned to me for directions. I managed to locate us on the map with a small level of confidence, but had to admit that I did not have an easy answer for the way out. We would just have to keep moving until we found a way down the sheer cliff face in front of us. They turned on me at this suggestion, so I had to call a more experienced male teacher who had done the walk before. He scaled the cliff face with a few fit kids and took us back to the track we had missed. That night, the kids were cheering him and complaining that I had gotten them lost. They complained to the female co-ordinator that they did not want to be in my group anymore and the most cutting remark made to me was “you shouldn’t be allowed to come if you don’t know where you’re going”.
That event completely destroyed my confidence and my group were led out the next day by a Gold girl who I will call Lana. I still went with them and she made me feel better by telling stories of all the other teachers getting lost and making sure that we controlled one of the maps. She also told off any kids who were dissing me and she was the first to ask me to walk with them on their major Gold walk next year.
Yesterday, I got back from an overnight hike with the Bronzies, but this time, the Gold kids were with us from the beginning. Each team consisted of a teacher, a Gold kid and 10 Bronze kids. I was teamed with Lana again, and we had a wonderful time with our group. Nobody got lost, and we all made it, but I was right about being unfit! I think the only reason I made it was because we took a backup car, so I only had to carry a daypack. The first day, we began at Teralba and then took the Great North Walk to Glenrock. This meant marching 18kms on the first day to camp near the beach. The promise of swimming was the only temptation that kept some kids walking, which is unfortunate because when we got there, the beach was full of bluebottles and we had to ban swimming:
There were still plenty of beautiful things to see though and we discovered that some packs had been filled with soccer balls, iPod docking stations and frisbees. The second day, we only had to hike 6kms to reach Newcastle, and there was time to swim at Bar Beach on the way. The best part was that we got to hike 3kms along the beach. Walking on sand is hard going, but it was fun to show the kids the sea stars, snails and dead bluebottles on the way. The other interesting part of this trip was the amount of kids who sought me out to ask Science questions. It was nice to see them actually interested in learning in an outdoor, social setting.
By the end of this hike, the Bronzies had regained confidence in me, I had more confidence in myself and I definitely want to be included on the Gold walk on Fraser Island next year, because Lana is an amazing young woman, and so are the other Golds.
I strongly encourage every person with the opportunity to undertake the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, to help their kids to undertake the Award or to sign up for the Dukes team at their school. It’s an amazing experience, and you get to see some awesome sights: