Stepping out: seeing how insignificant and yet utterly powerful we can be
This final blog of the term focuses on the importance of new experiences, of getting out of the classroom environment (or indeed your office space or every day routine), and of venturing out of your comfort zone – not only because the Easter break is a time many students and staff members enjoy a range of school trips and activities but also because the break in routine allows us to reset the start button and take time to evaluate matters from a fresh perspective which is liberating and refreshing although, simultaneously, potentially daunting and challenging: through the activities outlined below, I hope to inspire you to challenge yourselves too!
Over the holiday some students will be embarking on Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme expeditions, others are heading to Berlin as part of their History studies, and others still to Greece as part of their study of Classics. There will be many more who will be creating opportunities for themselves to be challenged or to gain essential skills for the future. Whatever they have planned we hope the girls will find their pursuits stimulating and confidence-boosting.
On Monday, students of French departed for a week as part of a language exchange to Paris. Language exchanges offer an excellent opportunity for rapid progression in the practical use of the language that has been acquired in the classroom. Being put on the spot at the metro station or in the boulangerie encourages determination to communicate effectively with the person on the other side of the exchange. Similarly, the biennial Spanish study trip to Salamanca, where our students stay with host families and make themselves understood in every day contexts, is definitely outside of most of the girls’ comfort zones. They gain valuable insight into Spanish culture, as well as the language, which is much more easily understood when experienced first-hand.
Today a group of Sixth Form adventurers departed for a practice expedition as part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award. When people hear about the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, they often think only of these expeditions – where the girls carry everything they need to camp for a few nights in the countryside, and in which they certainly do develop team work skills and a sense of resilience (for instance when a tent is collapsing during the night due to excessive rainfall or when a group has taken a wrong turn near the end of a long day of walking) – but the scheme is about so much more than this. Over 100 leading employers, including British Gas, Lloyds Bank, Specsavers and ITV, have endorsed D of E as equipping young people with skills for work, such as communication, drive, leadership, problem-solving, and self-management, and value the award when recruiting. This is because, in addition to the expeditions, the scheme also encourages young people to volunteer and help out in their communities, and requires participants to invest in developing a skill of their choice and committing to a physical activity regularly. All of these areas develop skills for life and also require commitment and reliability. I am delighted that the support and encouragement we provide at school means that our completion levels are above the national, and local, average: approximately 100 students in Year 10 to Upper Sixth participate in the scheme at this school each year. I was able to congratulate two of our Sixth Form students - Isabelle L. and Ellen C. - for having achieved their Gold Award in last week’s final whole school assembly of the year.
The Classics Department will be departing on Friday for their trip to Greece; an invaluable opportunity for the girls to see first-hand the buildings they have studied in the classroom, enabling them to gain a real appreciation and understanding of the skills, ideas and culture of the ancient world. Upper Sixth Classical Civilisation students have studied temples and sanctuaries in the classroom and they will be thrilled to see the wonderful sites in Athens, Olympia and Delphi and make sense of the Ancient Greek concern with competition and propaganda, their reverence for the gods and ideas surrounding sacred space. GCSE students studying ancient theatre will sit in the theatre at Epidauros imagining what performances of tragedies and comedies might have been like, understanding aspects of this culture which are both similar and familiar to our own and in other ways alien and remote.
One of the most popular excursions each year is the Sixth Form trip to Iceland. The girls are privileged to experience novel activity; they walk to a completely wild lake shore of pristine and harsh beauty where there is no trace of human activity nor any sign of life: an untouched landscape with no buildings, roads, or overhead cables and only rocky and bare slopes and a shore strewn with boulders and no sound apart from the wind and the birds. In such an environment, the girls ponder the fate of being made an outlaw in old Icelandic law, how hard it would have been to survive in this environment without co-operation from others, and why communities were so close knit. Such thoughts inevitably lead on to discussions about responsibilities in society and how together we can achieve things that would not be possible on our own. As Miss Fleur Spore, our superb Head of Geography, explains,
“we like to think that this landscape helps them see how insignificant they can be and yet how utterly powerful they become when they team up and work together!”.
The Year 9 Faith and Football initiative enhances learning outside of the classroom – but a little closer to home – by engaging students in enterprise. The girls are tasked to design a product and set up a company to try to make a profit (with all monies raised going to charity) over a period of four months. The current group of Year 9 students has a trading day coming up in central Cambridge (at All Saints’ Gardens, off Trinity Street, on Sunday 23 April) where they will be selling their products to members of the public. Not only do the girls develop their entrepreneurial skills and an understanding of project development and even product distribution, but also elements of customer service, gaining essential ‘people skills’ beyond those that would normally be developed in the classroom: hence a unique opportunity for their age.
Another highlight of Year 9 is the trip to the Kingswood Centre in Norfolk, right by the beach, for a day of team building adventure activities. There is a wide range of group activities – such as a climbing wall, crate stacking, or kayaking – and the girls each choose five or six activities to do in the day. Most will find at least one of the activities pretty challenging – and so by taking on these challenges they gain the confidence to try new ones, and also learn how to work together in teams, trusting each other and problem solving.
Those of you who travel past school will have seen our wonderful window displays, which are carefully put up each term by our Circle of Friends. One of the window displays this term has featured quite an extraordinary challenge that is being undertaken over the Easter break by our wonderful Head of Modern Foreign Languages and Head of Spanish, Miss Nicky Lees. Miss Lees has written previously about how one of her own school trips challenged her to tackle a fear of water, and many of you will recall how she recently completed the Aspire Channel Swim challenge, having learned to swim in order to undertake the challenge. The next challenge for Miss Lees is the Marathon Des Sables: a distance of six marathons run over the course of six days in the Sahara desert, with daily distances ranging from around 21 miles to over 50 miles. She sets off for Morocco on Sunday 9 April after which point we hope to hear from her once a day and be able to track her live progress - we will update this page with any information as and when we receive it so please do watch this space. Miss Lees has set herself this challenge because she genuinely doesn’t know whether she’ll manage it, and because she believes:
“a challenge isn't really a challenge if you already know you can do it before you start”.
Miss Lees has been sharing her challenge with our school community through a number of assemblies, and to support her several members of staff, including me, are pledging to run individually at the same time as she will be running in Morocco, and especially during the parts that she is more anxious about – for instance the overnight portion on the evening of Wednesday 12 April. The team intends to run between us the same number of miles (156) as Miss Lees will run over the six days, if not more, to encourage her during her challenge. This will certainly involve me stepping out of my comfort zone – and I would like to invite you to encourage your daughters to challenge themselves over the Easter break to step out of their comfort zones too.
I wish you all a very happy holiday and a well-deserved break. For those of you with a Christian faith, I wish you a reflective end of Lent, and a holy and happy Easter.