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Bronze awards for WaiCol’s Supported Learning Centre

From left to right: Sam Neal, teacher aides Sue McGhie and John Patterson, Trystan van de Loo, and Josh Taylor rafting on the Ruamahanga River during the adventurous journey component of their Duke of Edinburgh Awards. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

Story by Tom Taylor

Seven students from Wairarapa College’s Supported Learning Centre completed their Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Awards this year in a first for the centre.

In March, the SLC joined special education groups from across the greater Wellington region at Pelorus House in the Hutt Valley for the first-ever ‘Dukies Club’.

The club was the pilot programme of a joint initiative between the Special Olympics and the Duke of Edinburgh Award, with a dual aim to increase special education unit participation in the award, and to involve more participants in the Special Olympics.

Grace Yeats and friend CJ Grace attending WaiCol’s school ball as part of Yeats’ Duke of Edinburgh bronze award.

WaiCol’s seven students joined the more than 1.3 million people aged 14 to 24 who have taken part in the awards internationally.

To achieve a bronze award, students must meet requirements across four sections: service, skills, and physical recreation – each for at least one hour a week over a three-month period – plus an adventurous journey of two days and one night.

For their adventurous journey, SLC students Josh Taylor, Trystan van de Loo, William Feenstra, Patrick Davis, and Ben Taylor, all 19, and Sam Neal, 16, attended a camp at Kahikatea Outdoor Education Academy in Gladstone in November.

Teacher Siouxsie Locke said that two of the boys had never stayed away from home before, but all of them were “absolutely amazing”.

“They looked after each other, got right out of their comfort zones, challenged themselves and gave everything a go.”

Activities at the camp included tramping, bushcraft, river safety, swimming, rafting, cooking, and setting up tents.

“I hadn’t done rafting before, so I didn’t know what to expect, but it was really fun,” Josh Taylor said.

Another student, Grace Yeats, 18, was unable to complete an overnight camp due to her physical disabilities. Instead, she attended the school ball for her adventurous journey.

Grace had been a robust and chatty 10-year-old who in May of 2012 had returned home early from school in Carterton with a headache and sore throat.

She was from that day left unable to move or talk and within a year became the 13th person globally to be diagnosed with an incurable variant of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or Adem. It left her physically trapped but cognitively unimpaired.

Leading up to the school ball, she organised transport, and wrote a letter in an English lesson to history teacher Mrs Katia, requesting help with her hair and makeup.

For her skill, Yeats studied French. She went for walks and played boccia – a game related to petanque that is competed at the Paralympics – for her physical recreation, and helped around the school grounds to complete her service section.

The other students participated in a range of activities to fulfil their skill requirements, from dart-throwing to clay work. Josh Taylor learned the road code. The students’ service ranged from coaching primary pupils at Douglas Park School to maintenance jobs at Aversham Rest Home, while futsal, rugby, and athletics made up their physical recreation sections.

Having achieved their bronze levels, all the students are now eligible to go for silver next year. The requirements for this level are similar to bronze, but students spend longer on each section and undertake an adventurous journey of three days and two nights.

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