The great outdoors

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Panoramic view from the summit of the sponsored walk 2019

Schools are rooted in their communities. This means that every school is unique. One of Churchill’s unique features is our situation on the edge of an area of outstanding natural beauty. Our rural location is so beautiful, it would be a shame not to make the most of it!

This past week has seen us do exactly that. Even though the weather has not been what we might have hoped for in summer (in fact, we are heading for one of the wettest Junes on record), Churchill students have been out on the Mendips in huge numbers.

 

Over the weekend, ninety one students successfully completed their expeditions as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award. Teams of students spend two days navigating their way through the Somerset countryside, cooking for themselves and camping overnight. They were completely self-sufficient and independent, and were a huge credit to the Academy. I visited the overnight camp – in a farmer’s field – and the owner told me that Churchill students were the best she’s ever had camping there. Duke of Edinburgh is a tough challenge, but when I walked around the camp there was a huge sense of accomplishment mixed in with the exhaustion!

 

On Tuesday we had the annual sponsored walk and trek. Over 500 Year 7 and 8 students completed the sponsored walk – 16 kilometres including a mid-point climb to the trig point near Crook Peak. I had the pleasure of walking the walk this year, accompanying the Year 7 Tudor boys. They were great company, and showed plenty of determination, kindness and curiosity over the day. The views from the top were well worth the effort!

At the same time, Year 9 and 10 students were visiting checkpoints on the sponsored trek. This is a more independent challenge, with a “treasure hunt” across the Mendips to see which small team could navigate their way to the most checkpoints whilst working together collaboratively. This year, the “Legends of Trek” awards went to Year 9 Stuart Boys Team 4, with 60 points, closely followed by Year 9 Tudor Boys Team 4 and Year 10 Windsor Girls Team 1, both with 59 points. The Team Trek special award went to Year 9 Tudor Girls Team 6, but the overall winners were Hanover House with an average score across all their teams of 37.2, narrowly beating Tudor into second place with their average of 36.5.

Both these events were also important fundraising opportunities, supporting both the Friends of Churchill Academy and our nominated charity, Guide Dogs. For us as a school, they also give our students and staff the opportunity to get out into the beautiful Somerset countryside to demonstrate the Academy’s values of kindness (through teamwork, and looking after the environment), curiosity (by discovering new parts of our local area that students might not have visited before), and determination (by pushing themselves to take on a challenge). It is only possible with the fantastic support of the entire staff team, who all work together to ensure we can undertake the events safely – thank you to all of them, and to all the students who have risen to the challenge and enjoyed our great outdoors this week.

Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme

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We are really proud at Churchill to be an officially licensed organisation to deliver the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. The DofE gives young people a structure and framework to contribute to the community through voluntary work, whilst improving skills and developing confidence, commitment, resilience and teamwork. As I wrote in last week’s blog, I believe that through taking part and making the most of the opportunities presented to you, you make the most of yourself. The DofE  is a fantastic opportunity and I am glad to say that many of our students grasp the opportunity with both hands!

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Successful Duke of Edinburgh award students in March 2017

 

In 2015-16, 71 students successfully completed their Bronze Award, alongside 9 Silver and 1 Gold. In 2016-17 that figure rose to 97 Bronze Awards, 17 Silver and 3 Gold. This year there are close to 100 students on the Bronze Award register, and almost all of them completed their assessed expedition in the searing heat of the weekend of 16th to 19th June. Their determination to succeed was fantastic, walking ten miles a day over the two days with a full pack in the blazing sun. Equally fantastic was the feedback from the official assessors: “It is probably the best Bronze expedition I have worked on from organisation, information provided to me, structure, fantastic kids, great staff to work with and food!”

Well done to all the students who have taken on the DofE challenge this year. To all those who are thinking about doing it in the future – what are you waiting for? And finally, thank you to all the staff who give up their time and energy to help make DofE run so successfully at Churchill, especially Mr Madeline and our DofE coordinator Mr Tinker.

A day at the Palace

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When an invitation like this arrives, you don’t have to think twice!

On Monday 16th May, I had the incredible privilege of travelling down to London for a special Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award Presentation event in the gardens at Buckingham Palace. What a day!

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Buckingham Palace, May 16th 2016

The sun shone down as Mr Tinker (Churchill Academy’s DofE Manager) and I walked up to – and through! – the famous wrought-iron gates of the Palace. It felt very strange to be on the other side, walking past the famous Coldstream Guards in their sentry boxes and round the side to the gardens. Only official photography was allowed inside the gardens, and we weren’t allowed even to get our phones out. I can understand why, and it did make me experience the whole thing “in the moment” rather than through a screen, but the gardens and the Palace were so spectacular that they were just made for Instagram! It’d’ve been a bit of a giveaway that I’d broken the rules, though, so I was very good and kept my phone well away.

Once we’d arrived in the gardens, all the North Somerset and South Gloucestershire LOs (DofE Licensed Organisations)  were gathered together in a reception group. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there from all over the country, all looking incredibly smart and glamorous. Two separate jazz big bands competed from each end of the field, and two of the biggest marquees I’d ever seen were lined up with tea urns and row upon row of shortbread biscuits. I can safely report they were delicious!

Mr Tinker and I met up with Churchill’s Gold Award winner Amy Hogarth, before exploring the gardens. We were inspecting the Coxless Crew boat that four brave women rowed across the Pacific, when we noticed a group of people coming out of the Palace itself – the celebrity presenters! Each group had their own celebrity, and Mr Tinker and I had a great time spotting famous faces: chef Ainsley Harriott, Strictly’s Anton du Beke, Marcella actress Anna Friel, both the Weasley twins from Harry Potter (James and Oliver Phelps), rugby players James Haskell and Ben Cohen, Dr Christian Jessen from Embarrassing Bodies, musician turned businessman Levi Roots, explorer Levison Wood, Nick Hewer from the Apprentice, goalkeeper David Seaman, athlete Sally Gunnell, and Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield to name but a few. See who you can spot!

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The celebrity presenters posed for a group shot (source)

Our group received presentations from Gail Emms MBE, mixed doubles badminton World Champion, Commonwealth Champion and Olympic Silver medallist. She was really inspiring, talking to the group about having to dig deep and persevere when playing badminton against Chinese athletes in China – where badminton has the same status as football does here! She also talked about inspiration, citing her Mum (herself an England international footballer) as one who got her into sport by beating her again and again on the badminton court until, aged 12, Gail won. And kept winning… Finally, she talked about ambition and setting yourself goals, describing how she used to visualise herself atop the podium with a gold medal round her neck, and used that as the motivation to keep going when training was tough and times were hard. She was really inspiring!

The presentations followed, with the Gold Award winners rightly the focus of the proceedings. However, as it was the Diamond Anniversary of the DofE, we also received a special plaque in recognition of the Academy’s commitment to running the DofE over twenty years as a licensed organisation. We gave the DofE a copy of our logo in return, which will be displayed alongside all the other LO logos in their offices!

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Our Licensed Organisation plaque – on display in reception soon!

Finally, our group was visited by HRH The Countess of Wessex, who spent time chatting to the Gold Award winners and the Licensed Organisation representatives. She was particularly interested in hearing about DofE Diamond Challenges, part of a one-off initiative to mark the 60th Anniversary of DofE which allows people of all ages to take on a DofE inspired challenge and earn a Diamond Pin. The Countess herself had just announced a 445 mile bike ride from Holyrood to Buckingham Palace as part of her own Diamond Challenge.  Mr Tinker has already completed his Diamond Challenge – a triathlon including an open-water swim! I will be taking to my bike in July for a sportive cycling challenge which includes a rather daunting 850ft climb at one point…you can sponsor me here!

It was an amazing day, but above all it was to mark a particularly good cause. The DofE gives young people a structure and framework to contribute to the community through voluntary work, whilst improving skills and developing confidence, commitment, resilience and teamwork. As we were leaving the Palace, Mr Tinker and I were both saying we wished we’d done DofE when we were at school, but we didn’t have the opportunity. To me, school should be all about opportunity – which is why I’m proud to lead an academy which is licensed to deliver the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.