Adventure + Academics: The Duke of Edinburgh & Keys to well-rounded learning

Adventure + Academics: The Duke of Edinburgh & Keys to well-rounded learning

September 19, 2013
By
St. Margaret's School

The teachers and staff at St. Margaret's are passionate about providing our students with a complete education that prepares them to be well-rounded women upon graduation. So we take pride in the fact that many of our girls are ambitious and bold, and choose to pursue extracurricular activities that complement and enhance their education.
 
Recent graduates Olivia Belcher-Coward, Laura Sawchuk and Lily Li exemplify that ambition, having earlier this year completed the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Gold program. Each girl spent four years committing the time to earning the award, which is a national program that provides students with opportunities to learn new skills through unique experiences. The program aims to leave the young Canadians who participate with a wide range of life skills and self-confidence.
 
"It taught us a lot. We've become the people we are today because of it," Laura says.
 
The self-directed program requires that students focus on developing five aspects of their personal growth (outside of academics): service, skill, physical fitness, an adventurous journey and a residential project.
 
"It allows them to explore things that are important to them. It's a program that really helps them define themselves," says Ms. Donna Holmwood, SMS senior school leadership teacher. "It encourages them to take a good, hard look at different aspects of their life, and to explore themselves and their potential."
 
While working toward earning the Gold Award, Laura spent her extracurricular time balancing homework with figure skating (physical activity), singing (skill) and teaching young girls to skate (service). She also travelled to Mexico to help build a school for children in need to meet the residential project requirements.
 
"It was a really great experience, and the program motivated me to take on this challenge, partly because I wanted to complete my residential project, but I also want to make a difference in the world," Laura says.
 
"I participated in a service trip to Costa Rica. We had to build a bathroom, we painted, we did lots of work. We even got to teach English to some younger kids," Olivia says of her residential project. Ballet was her physical activity of choice, while piano was the skill she fostered, and she volunteered at a soup kitchen for her community service experience.
 
Mr. Gregor Campbell, a now-retired SMS teacher, says the program prepares the girls for life after high school.
 
"The kids are proud of their achievements and they put it on resumes and they put it on university applications. I've had university registrars phone me because they want to know more about what the girls did in Duke of Edinburgh's," says Campbell, who was SMS's teacher sponsor for nearly 20 years. "Universities aren't just looking for academics – they want a well-rounded kid. Not just someone who absorbs information quickly and quietly; they want kids who are engaged actively on campus and in their community."
 
Donna is a vocal proponent of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, introducing girls to the program in Grades 8 and 9. She says the reason she's such a strong advocate is because she went through the program in high school and she continues to recognize the life-changing benefits it brings.
 
"It allowed me to see beyond myself, that it wasn't all about me," she says. "It amazes me when these kids have the awareness of the impacts it's had already. They don't have to wait 10 years to look back on it – they see the impact it's having on them and they're having on the world, and that really speaks to the program itself."
 
SMS is a big supporter of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. Look no further than our annual week-long Outweek, happening this week. That program has expanded over the years to the point where any girl who participates essentially meets the requirements of the adventurous journey portion of the Award.
 
Outweek provides our Grade 6-12 students with opportunities to go sailing, kayaking, canoeing, spelunking and more. Its existence wasn't born out of helping girls meet their Duke of Edinburgh requirements, but rather we see the value in providing our girls with these life experiences. In the case of Outweek, it's an adventure that challenges them in a range of outdoor activities, and sees them work together to build confidence in their abilities.

"It's good to do something that challenges them, something they haven't done before," Campbell says. "They get the sense that 'I can do this. I can feel confident about this.' And that translates into them performing better in the classroom."
 
Both Laura and Olivia recognize how lucky they are to have had the opportunity to go through the Duke of Edinburgh's Award program, and say it's helped prepare them to become leaders in the community.

"It's contributed a lot to who we are – it's encouraged us to be good people, to try new things, to be confident," Laura says.
 
"You have nothing to lose, only a lot to gain. I know I'm going use what I gained from the program for the rest of my life" adds Olivia.
 
"It's a phenomenal program. It parallels the philosophies at St. Margaret's to have the girls be independent and explore things confidently," Donna says. "To allow them to find themselves and be well-rounded is really important – it's not just about academics."
 
 
Read the BlackPress article about our students. For more information about the Duke of Edinburgh program, check out their website.
 
Republished from the SMS Blog. St. Margaret's School will be exploring themes related to each of the school's core values laid out in the 10-year Strategic Plan with each passing month throughout the year - September is Courage. Related articles: What would you do if you weren't afraid, and Reflections on Outweek.