A group of some of the most vulnerable teenagers in Yorkshire are celebrating a unique success for their school after passing the prestigious Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award.
The eight pupils, from Meadowcroft School in Wakefield, suffer from a variety of conditions including autism, ADHD, and Aspergers Syndrome. Most of them have troubled backgrounds causing severe social & emotional issues.
The culmination of the Gold award was a five day camping expedition, with the challenge of kayaking more than 50 miles along the River Spey in Scotland.
The Course Assessor for Duke of Edinburgh Award, Simon Adams, who accompanied them on the expedition, said: “The DofE Gold Award is an achievement for any group of pupils to pass, but considering the social and emotional backgrounds of these pupils, the problems they have been faced with, and the resilience they have shown, the Duke of Edinburgh Gold achievement is extraordinary and they should be proud of themselves and their School.”
Simon said he witnessed kayaks capsizing and the group of youngsters working together to rescue each other from the difficulties they endured along the way.
“It was a real pleasure to see how this group developed, how they mutually supported each other and how they rose to this very real challenge,” he said.
Megan (17) from Leeds, the only girl on the expedition, said: “This is an achievement we can take through life with us. No matter what I went through as a child or where I ended up, I still managed to pass my Duke of Edinburgh Gold.
“Obviously, it’s not easy for people in a school like ours to even attempt the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. I’d like to thank the teachers who trusted us to be out for five days kayaking!”
Jack (18) from Leeds, said: “It’s not just about the achievement, it’s about all the memories we made along the way.
“When you spend five days with people 24/7, you really get to know who they are as real people, rather than the persona they like to portray at school. For me, one of the highlights was getting to know people properly, and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved. it’s not just about the achievement, it’s about all the memories we made along the way.”
Luke (17) from North Yorkshire, said he was proud to have discovered his own leadership skills. “I’m really proud because I’ve now led the whole group for a day and I never thought I’d be able to do that.”
Taylor (17) from Rotherham said: ““At first, it was a really tough challenge, and I surprised myself that I completed it. It was amazing to complete and I’ve made loads of new friends and real memories.”
Jordan (18) from Leeds, said: “It’s an amazing feeling to have done it. After the first few bumps and scrapes, I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I can look back now and feel really proud of myself.”
Reece (17) from Bradford, whose complex needs arise from autism, said: “I know I’ve done something that, usually, people like me wouldn’t be able to do. They wouldn’t dare to try it. For me, I feel it’s a great achievement.”
Reece’s Mum said: “I hope my son’s achievement will show other children with autism that with the right support you can achieve wonderful things like this. When Reece was asked if he’d like to attempt the Duke of Edinburgh Award, I was shocked because of his autism. It was going to take him right out of his comfort zone but he surprised me. This achievement has increased his self confidence, and the group really nurtured him and made him part of the team. It has made him understand friendship and opened a whole new life for him. I would like to thank the school staff who made this happen: they go above and beyond what is expected of them for all the pupils.
Headteacher Lynette Edwards, said: “Pupils come to Meadowcroft School with serious failure and rejection behind them and with society’s labels that they can’t succeed, so this is a significant achievement.
“It is extra special because most people wouldn’t have believed they could have done this, even the pupil themselves!
“I’m immensely proud of the pupils for what they’ve achieve, but I’m also very proud of my staff who believed in them, and proud of the School for attempting this for the first time in our history.”
Jonnie Czternastek, the School’s Outdoor Education Leader, said: “The group of children who have achieved the DofE Gold Award have a range of difficulties: they suffer from low self esteem, ADHD, and they carry the full spectrum of emotional and social difficulties, as well autism with all the challenges that brings.
“This is a phenomenal achievement for each of these pupils and for the School. Our pupils struggle to see any course or programme through to a conclusion because of their difficulties, and never did I believe when we set out on the Gold award two years ago that they would all be able to achieve it. It’s been a humbling experience, and when we reached the sea on the 5th day of our expedition, I don’t think there was a dry eye between us. It is a very special achievement.”