We are the only school in Russia running the Duke of Edinburgh International Award. This is quite an accomplishment but we are committed to keep doing the Award as best we can, and even looking at including the Silver Award (we currently run the Bronze Award and the final increment is the Gold Award). We will see.
Last year we were unable to do the Award because I was the only one trained to deliver it. We had our Secondary Maths teacher set up to do the training but when the conflict broke out, he left the country and never returned. When I was made Head of School, one of my very first thoughts was to bring Mr Marsh back as Head of Primary and starting the DofE Award again. And thus, it became so!
Back in September 2022, Mr Marsh and I wanted to start the Award from afresh - to try new routes and camp somewhere else (we tried the school grounds last time and were rained off due to heavy storms), as well as drastically improve our success rate. Our target was a minimum of 75%. This was ambitious when our last attempt in 2021 was approximately 15% but we had more control and flexibility over the process and the calendar in general.
We started recruiting early in the academic year and made good progress in October. We had a cohort of students from Y9 to Y12 and things were beginning to take shape. We had about 13 students and we started adding them to the Online Record Book (ORB) where the candidates had to complete sections over a period of 6 months (major) and at least 3 months (minors). The sections included SMART targets for Physical, Skills and Voluntary sections. They take commitment - not only do candidates have to donate an hour a week to each (3 hours in total) but they had to upload evidence as well.
Over time, three students dropped out and some later joined. We were left with 10 candidates, our final ten. That made two groups of 5. Mr Marsh and I would aim to lead each group through their 6 months of work, two legs of a practice journey and the two legs of the assessed qualifying journey or expedition. Every week we would meet and we would practice various necessary skills such as assembling and disassembling tents, unpacking/packing cooking sets, planning route cards and reading maps, packing/unpacking backpacks, cooking food on stoves as well as conditioning work which included doing laps of the school grounds with a full pack.
After grinding through the autumn months and into the heavy winter we continued our journey with resolve and vigour. Eventually, spring arrived and with it came more pleasant weather. We gathered the cohort and planned our Practice Journey, which would include Ms Nura and Ms Anna as group supervisors. The Practice Journey is an integral part of the Award and must be done in advance. We also wanted to increase the challenge to better prepare the candidates so we opted for two legs - one afternoon hike for 10km then pitch and dissemble tents, followed by another 10km the next day reversing the route. We wanted the cohort to experience completing activities under fatigue and repeating the hikes with heavy legs and sore feet.
So, at the end of April, 2023, we completed our practice journey. It was not perfect but we learnt by our mistakes and righted them as we progressed. Mr Marsh and I felt a lot more confident as a result!
On May 18th, we met at Gorky Park at 12 noon for our qualifying journey - our expedition was about to begin. Myself, Mr Marsh, Ms Nura, Ms Anna, and the whole cohort were as ready as we would ever be! We were blessed with fine weather, but it was hot so we had to adapt, just as we had learned to do. The two groups set off around 12.30pm, navigating several checkpoints along the way to include landmarks of note, navigational aids, and appropriate rest points. After 20km+ and four hours of hiking (minimum requirement) the groups landed at the campsite in the late afternoon and early evening. From there, our minimum requirement of two hours 'busy activity' began - we pitched tents and cooked our mandatory hot meals. As night-time approached, we played cards, sang songs, danced, and roasted marshmallows on the fire. It had been a long day and we returned to our tents for 11pm. We were past the half way point.
The light shines through the tents early in the late spring, as does the sound of birdsong. Some students started to stir around 4am and they began packing up early and preparing breakfast before the final haul. Slowly, all were awake - like ants busying around their hill - cleaning, gathering and planning for the final leg. Around 7am it was time to leave. This time the groups marched on tired and blistered feet, shoulders and backs would ache and the rain had started to fall. However, the groups were purposeful and determined; the journey back was concise and accurate, after all there were warm showers, clean clothes, and comfortable beds to get back to!
We landed back to Gorky Park in and around noon, as planned. It had been a very successful expedition and I feel it was the fittest group we had had. Many even participated in sporting events and tournaments the same day, which was remarkable. After 6 months hard work it was done. We had the ceremony to look forward to but presentations needed to be created and executed so we were not finished just yet.
Out of the ten cohorts they all passed - 100% pass rate. However, we did add the three onto the ORB which made it a total of 13 candidates and thus a 76.92% pass rate as a result. So, we did it, and beat our targets as Award Leaders, as well as the candidates achieving their personal targets too. Simply not possible without Mr Marsh and his tireless work throughout - thank you very much, sir.
Well done to everyone, it been quite a journey, and certainly a memorable one.
Lee N Daglish - Co-Award Leader and Head of School, May 2023
Before I go, may I leave you with some words from Mr Marsh, Ms Anna, and Ms Nura:
Mr Chris Marsh – Co-Award Leader and Head of Primary
“This has been one of our most successful Duke of Edinburgh Awards to date. Everyone has worked hard, pulled together and created a wonderful atmosphere for not only the students, but the staff as well. I couldn't be prouder of the groups we had this year and I was constantly impressed by the determination and hard work of the students. Our Adventurous Journey has been my favourite so far and it was an incredible experience for everyone. I am honoured to become part of the ‘Tick Club’ although I still maintain our poses looked more like a crab. Throughout the 24 hours, 52 km, epic UNO battles, dance competitions and a few burnt marshmallows - it has been an incredible journey for all of us and our most successful. Thank you to all who made this possible.”
Ms Anna Kolpachkova – Supervisor and PE teacher
“The cooking of the food was great and eating outside was very enjoyable. This is the first time I ever had roasted marshmallows! The teamwork was excellent and Emils was a great navigator with his map reading. His timing was also very impressive. I enjoyed the second day more, mainly because of the faster pace and less map work. This was my first DofE trip and I would like to do it again!”
Ms Nura Abdumamatova – Supervisor and Year 5 teaching assistant
“After walking for 23km we didn't feel tired at all. It was a lot of fun cooking ourselves, toasting marshmallows, playing card games, sleeping in tents and waking up in the morning to the singing of birds and not only birds :D.
The students showed excellent teamwork and took care of each other. It was a pleasure to spend time with them. I am very happy to be a part of DofE 2023 and of course ready to do it again!”