At the beginning of this month, Gane and Marshall ran the Ardeche School Challenge for special needs school students. Taking place from 1st to 7th July, the expedition involved a thrilling journey by kayak down the Ardeche Gorge, with plenty of white water and plenty of spills! Then the group tried canyoning with some amazing dives into remote rock pools, and finally they went on a high ropes course (rather like an extreme version of Go Ape, was one comment!)
I was lucky enough to be able to join the group (23 in all) for the kayaking. We flew out on British Airways to Marseilles and then travelled in a convoy of three eight seater minibuses to Pont Vallon – a lively little town at the heart of the Ardeche adventure region. We set up our own tents on arrival and thereafter the group camped and prepared virtually all their own meals themselves. Managing not only the adventurous activities but also the flights, the transfers and the camping and cooking was all part of the ‘Learning Outside the Classroom’ template that we worked to. Flying abroad and seeing a foreign country for the first time was a wonderful eye-opener to many of the students. For all of us – teachers, mentors, outdoor leaders and students – this was an inspirational and challenging holiday. Each of the students on the trip had come from often exceptionally difficult backgrounds. They had been excluded from the main school system for behavioural issues and were several years behind with their education. But in an expedition environment, they performed admirably as a close-knit team.
Phil Worgan, our engaging main leader, founded the event after several trips to the Ardeche with small groups, seeing it as the ideal venue for outdoors learning. ‘Learning Outside the Classroom’ has become a recognised way of working with special needs students to help them improve academically and socially. Our School Challenges are designed with these goals in mind: connecting to the curriculum through outdoor experiences, developing socially and as a team, nurturing resilience, increasing self-esteem, and developing skills that will be useful in seeking work or further education after a student’s school years end.
Ray Mears will be following exactly the same route as us on ITV1 at 8pm on Monday. I’m sure he won’t overturn and disappear under the white-water as I did twice. But then he won’t have a team of brilliant special needs students to pull him out and retrieve his kayak either!
Gane and Marshall will be running one or more Ardeche Challenges during the first week of July 2017. The cost including BA flights will be £884 per person. The trips will once again be led by Phil Worgan. Our kayaking leader will be – as for this year – the amazing sport kayaker Chris Brain. There are various ways in which you can take part: recommend our Ardeche Challenge to a school you are in contact with, send a team from your school, sponsor a special needs student whose family/school cannot raise the funds to send that student. Subject to the safety checks, you could join the challenge as a mentor. We have found that most students want to join in these adventures and are keen to start preparing months ahead. Their preparations involve not only getting fit and learning to set up tents and to kayak, but also winning their place on the team as result of improving behaviour in school.
For more information about our Ardeche challenges, or our school challenges more generally, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.