03.06.20 By DofE Leader, Kirsten McGregor

DofE Heroes: ‘Forging stronger relationships within the school community’

As a teacher at Grange Academy, Kilmarnock, I was very lucky to have the opportunity to have my first Bronze DofE group of 15 girls in 2012 and by the time of our first expedition in April 2013, I was hooked! In my role as a DofE Leader and Co-ordinator, I sought (with the support of many, many others) to expand the Award within the school to include as many pupils as I could and I am thrilled at the uptake. In 2019 we had 101 Bronze, 47 Silver and 20 Gold pupils out on Expedition, all pupils have either completed the Award or are close to completing the Award.

The Award has incredible value and worth for all young people involved as activities can lead to positive outcomes such as employment, new friendship groups, greater confidence, resilience and an increased sense of self-worth. Personally, the most rewarding aspect of the Award is out on expedition when I get to witness the personal growth of all of our young people – especially the growth and change of mindset in some of our young people who sometimes struggle to engage positively in school. In an outdoor setting, the reliance on self and the need to support others in your group under challenging circumstances are essential skills. It is such a significant moment when pupils who are not normally at the forefront of school activities, attainment and/or achievement suddenly realise that they are a vital part of a team or, in some circumstances when it becomes evident to all that an individual is a natural leader. Those are moments that completely overshadow all of the hard work needed to get everything and everyone in the right place at the right time.

Without the goodwill and time of so many of our volunteers (school staff and the wider community) and support from our Head Teacher, it is difficult to see how all of this could happen. Although some of the expeditions are held during the school day, the rest is completely dependent on the support given by volunteers. Guiding pupils through the sections of the DofE is squeezed into lunch breaks and after school; volunteers give up their evenings, nights and occasionally weekends for camping and sailing to support our young people.

Two women on sailboat in overalls

On a personal level, as well as having had the opportunity to go on many inspiring and challenging training activities, I have been lucky to get to explore so many beautiful areas of Scotland through walking and sailing expeditions. Having space and time to get to know colleagues and pupils better when out on expedition is not only good for our wellbeing, it also helps to forge stronger relationships within the school community.

I have also met so many amazing people who also work with or volunteer with DofE – many of whom I can now call friends. Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of our volunteering community is that we now have two ex-pupils who volunteer with us – one of whom was in my original group of 15 girls; she has now gone into Teaching and I know that she wants to set up a DofE group when she is established. She, like all DofE Groups, will always need inspiring and dedicated volunteers to make this happen.