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Last week I was privileged to be given the opportunity to accompany a group of Year 9 boys on the Lake Tali Karng bushwalk. For many years the Year 9 bushwalk has been viewed as a ‘rite of passage’ for our Year 9 students as they bring together the skills and experiences of Year 7 and 8 to attempt one of the most amazing walks in Alpine Victoria and also one of the more challenging walks.

At this stage of their Outdoor Education, our students are competent in the bush, they know how to work together as a team and how to manage themselves through challenging situations; however, I felt that I needed to experience this challenge first hand to understand the feelings of triumph and satisfaction that our students feel every year when they complete the walk. I was also interested to know if this walk is too challenging. Are we expecting too much of our students?

 Upon reflection, I found the walk to be amazing. This is truly one of the most beautiful places on our planet and, as a Gippslander, it was great to experience this in our backyard. I found the walking aspect to be challenging, particularly the Valley of Destruction; however, I survived with the assistance and support of the boys in my group. An ageing body was the cause of my pain and the young people around me completed the walk more easily than I did. It was beneficial to place myself on the journey that our students experience each year and understand the challenges that they face, before and during these expeditions. It was great to be part of this journey with them, to hear the way in which they encourage each other and how they manage the diversity of opinions and abilities within a group. To watch the way that they manage themselves when their tolerance levels have been reached and the group becomes a little bit niggly, usually when they are hungry.

Do we expect too much of our students when they attempt activities such as this. Do we expose them to too great a risk when they spend time in this environment? I know that many schools are withdrawing from such activities, as they feel they are too hard for the students and the Schools are becoming too risk averse. I strongly feel that experiences such as this are a deeply ingrained and positive aspect of our school culture. Yes, they challenge students, however, our programs are designed to support students as they meet challenges. To give them the opportunity to achieve great things and experience that sense of satisfaction and fulfilment that is only felt when we challenge ourselves and triumph.

I pushed myself to my absolute physical limits during the week and so did some of the boys in my group, yet we all survived and we all felt that exhilaration from finishing. We all now know what we are capable of experiencing and what we can achieve. Not all of the boys in my group will go on and become avid bushwalkers; however, they now know what their physical limits are and how to manage themselves when pushed to these limits. They are stronger of character and stronger of mind.

We have a very unique and very positive Outdoor Education program at Gippsland Grammar that takes our students on a developmental journey throughout their time at the School. This is a program that is much admired by other Schools. Throughout the program it is very pleasing to note the growth in skills, resilience and confidence within our students, as they complete each expedition.

I would like to thank Cass Booth for her vision for Outdoor Education and her commitment to developing young people in the Outdoors, Mr Ripon for enduring my endless whining throughout the hike and the boys in my group for supporting me and waiting for me to catch up.