The NSW Office of Sport – Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award team hosted a webinar on Wednesday 21 October for Award Leaders throughout NSW schools and community organisations to provide an update on allowances and changes to the Award during COVID-19. Two schools (SMGS was one of them) were invited to present examples of how they managed and adjusted the Award throughout the restrictions to enable students to continue to participate. Many schools have been unable to sustain their Award programs during the epidemic. 

The Award at SMGS was able to successfully navigate the restrictions by showcasing what students had been able to do and, in turn, motivating others. This was done by:

  • The use of a Duke of Edinburgh CANVAS page, which enabled regular posts to show photos of how students adjusted their activities, providing motivation for those who didn’t know what to do.
  • A voluntary service component, which allowed for students to partake in a range of different activities such as making masks for the medical centre, Blaze Aid, cleaning up rubbish around the lake and helping out neighbours. 
  • A physical recreation component – rather than students participating in organised community sporting activities, students shifted to at-home fitness programs such as running, cycling, walking and boxing. Some students participated in the SMGS Run Club and uploaded times to a website. Photos were also uploaded to the CANVAS page. 
  • Skills component adaptations, which saw many students developing their culinary skills by cooking meals for their families and uploading photos to the CANVAS page to encourage others to follow suit. Some students continued their music lessons via Zoom and others learnt a new skill through online courses.

The Adventurous Journey component is one that has restricted so many schools from continuing with the Award program, as schools have been unable to travel out of their local areas and unable to hold overnight camps. The AJ component requires students to complete eight hours each day of activity. SMGS held a series of day hikes where students still had to complete an eight-hour journey with a navigational component each day, but returned home to camp in their back yards at night. We have been blessed by having so many wonderful day hikes in our local area, making it possible to continue with the AJ component. 

It has been wonderful to see how flexible and resilient our students have been in continuing to pursue their Awards despite both the bushfires and COVID-19 in 2020. Students have had to adapt and change the activities that they had planned and have had to be self-motivated and determined to complete each of them in the absence of having organised activities to rely upon and motivate them. The community spirit has been particularly rewarding to witness, as was the enthusiasm that they showed on their Adventurous Journey, despite the arrival of a blizzard which made navigation challenging and the hiking extremely challenging in deep powder snow. The students were just excited to be getting out exploring the mountains.

My wish for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award at SMGS is that more and more students join! Kurt Hahn, the founder of DoE, said, “There is more in you than you think”, and I genuinely believe that the young people of today have so much to offer. They just need to experience challenging environments where they are pushed beyond their perceived limits in order to realise the enormous strength and infinite potential that lies within. Students are often unaware, until they participate in regular community service, that you gain so much as a person by giving selflessly to others. Students who go on to complete their DoE Awards become resilient, well-rounded and community-minded young adults who learn the value of setting goals for themselves and persevering through the challenges that life presents. 

The students themselves are the greatest asset to Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programs in schools. Giving the students a voice and a platform to share their experiences with others within their school LMS (Learning Management System) motivates and encourages other students to continue to pursue their Award components. Utilising the school social media networks also provides motivation and enables parents to see what students are doing so that they also encourage their children to continue. The provision of day hikes in whatever capacity is allowable within restrictions is a critical component of keeping the Award alive in 2020.