Many members of the School community will be aware that our Year 9 students had a camp last week. Camps are usually the object of substantial anticipation for students, although this year most of the speculation hinged on the fact that the camp would take place in the Belanglo State Forest. Recent headlines have raised the students' awareness of the forest and its history and their apprehensions about camp may have been amplified by their research into Belanglo. Obviously, we didn't choose our camp location for reasons associated with the newspaper headlines. Rather, over the last few years we have reviewed the camping and outdoor education programs offered by the school and we saw the need for a challenging Year 9 expedition-style camp.
The camps in Years 5, 7, and 8 are site-based camps. Our provider for these camps is Anglican Youthworks; we have had a longstanding and significant partnership with them.The Year 5 camp, which lasts three days, takes place at the Youthworks Port Hacking campsite called Rathane. This camp includes a wide range of outdoor activities, including archery, canoeing, sailing and water activities, but the students are accommodated in cabins and the facilities are extensive and comfortable.
A similar camp happens right at the beginning of Year 7. This camp takes place at Deer Park, which is also at the Anglican Youthworks Port Hacking site; this camp has many of the same activities, albeit at an increased level of challenge. Much of the benefit in this camp is mixing up the continuing and new students, helping them get to know their peers and teachers, and ensuring that they start their school experience with some positive memories. In Year 8, Anglican Youthworks continues to be the provider, but we make use of the Waterslea campsite on the Shoalhaven River near Nowra. This camp also increases the level of challenge, with the students sleeping in tents on a camp-out for one night.
For all the success of these site-based camps, it is our judgment that this format does not provide adequate challenge for the Year 9 students. At its best, outdoor education stretches students by providing them with physical challenges, exposing them to situations that go beyond their normal experience, expecting them to learn about themselves and others, and requiring them to persevere in the face of multi-faceted adversity. Therefore, in 2013 we began the search for a provider who would be able to run expedition-based camps for our Year 9 students. We settled on the Outdoor Education Group (OEG), as a leading provider in this sector.
In 2015, we ran our first expedition-style camps with OEG. Based at their property Biloela bordering the Belanglo State Forest, the students were provided with the choice to take on either a three-day camp or a five-day camp. The longer camp entailed a higher level of challenge; about half the students chose this option. Despite the experience of camping in -7 degrees centigrade, the feedback from students was largely positive, with the majority of students from both camps indicating that they would have preferred a longer camp.
Therefore, in 2016 we offered either a four-day camp or a six-day camp, at a slightly less chilly time of year. Again, about half our students chose to take on the more challenging option, which also dovetails with the requirements of the Duke of Edinburgh program. While we are yet to conduct our post-camp survey, it has been fascinating to hear the students begin to reflect on their experience. The full gamut of responses is evident, from those who loved it and would prefer to be in the bush than at school, through to those who saw very little (if anything) positive in the experience. Some students appear to have developed a new appreciation for a full pantry and hot water on tap. Others formed or built connections with peers (and teachers) with whom they do not normally interact.
With this adventure behind them, the focus has already begun to swing towards the Year 10 Global Education program. In a couple of weeks time our Year 10 students will travel to the Yasawa Islands, Cambodia/Vietnam, Broken Hill, Tasmania, or wider Sydney as they embark on a program of service-learning and horizon-broadening.
Over the last couple of years, as I have chatted with Year 12 students towards the end of their time at the school, the experiences that seem to have left the best memories have been the co-curricular ones. Camps and trips provide our young people with formative experiences that enrich their school experience in the long run, even if they don't necessarily love it while it is happening!