Rygaards Leads the Way with The Duke of Edinburgh International Award

In many ways, being challenged; having to navigate uncertainty and uncharted waters, is something many of us fear or try to avoid; however, some rise to the occasion and take the necessary steps to overcome and solve the challenges they face. At Rygaards International School in Copenhagen, Denmark, this is precisely what some of our Secondary School students did when they, in these uncertain times, completed the Bronze stage of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award – a highly respected program from The Duke of Edinburgh’s Foundation, which operates in more than 130 countries. In fact, the students didn’t just rise to complete this prestigious award; they were also among the very first in the world to venture out to nature post-lockdown, which makes this accomplishment even more special and admirable.   

The very core of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award is to raise young people’s aspirations, to help them build confidence, resilience, communication and teamworking skills, and to give them experiences that will help them navigate the challenges in life. The program is designed to have students contributing to society and building character through four key elements: physical activity, learning new skills, volunteering service, and developing navigational and survival skills. While the award and the process it takes to achieve in themselves are remarkable, this year’s journey has proven to be even more special. As Melanie Millington, Head of Rygaards International Secondary School, states, “The date of the expedition was a key time for the Secondary Students as they had not yet returned to school. So, for many of them, it was their first time out of their homes in several weeks. We were only able to reach out to parents and students digitally, and the majority of the preparation happened online and through distance learning platforms. To succeed with this, and to see how successfully everything was managed by the teachers and students was really exciting and Rygaards is thrilled at their achievement, and I am very proud of both the teachers and the students for making this happen at our school.”  

The 15 enthusiastic Year 10 students and their two inspirational Award Leaders, Emily Brown and Richard Page found their ways to navigate the process of achieving the Bronze of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award while having to comply with the health restrictions from the Danish Authorities. Furthermore, the Award Leaders also had to manage the expectations and anxiety of both the students and parents caused by the global pandemic. This was especially challenging during the Adventurous Journey as this hike is about working together and helping each other through the natural environment. Here, the students and the leaders had to follow additional guidelines such as dividing themselves into smaller groups, sleeping in their individual tents, avoiding any public transportation, and keeping the distance at all times. These restrictions also helped calm the parents, as one stated, “Knowing that the kids were going to be divided into manageable groups of the allowed headcount and that they were to sleep in their individual tents, we felt better and saw that it would be feasible since they would be outdoors for the most part. We knew that safety and making sensible decisions was going to govern the entire trip and that the kids were very well aware of the repercussions.”  

While parents were anxious about whether to allow their child to go on the Adventurous Journey, it’s also important to state what it meant for the students themselves as they, at the point of the trip, had been isolated for weeks and this would be their first time back with some of their peers. One parent noted, “I knew that my 15-year old daughter was beginning to suffer from not mixing with people of her own age. She had met a maximum of four people other than her immediate family in two months, and I could see that she really needed to meet others. Normally active and outgoing, she had become glued to a screen, largely limited to her bedroom and it was difficult to get her out of the house.” She then describes her daughter post the trip, “And so she came back from the trip, which had experienced suitably challenging weather, exhilarated, happy and with stories to tell. ‘No blisters Mum!’. It has re-energised her, and she is almost back to her normal-self … So, her sense of self-worth has been restored.” In short, the benefits and the emotional joy of this trip touches on the very core of the award of transforming young people’s lives. As one of the participants put it, “From the very first moment where we raced across the school, built tents, and made hot chocolate on the Trangia, I knew I was going to love the Duke of Edinburgh program. Not only did I learn the necessities of ‘surviving in the wild’ but I had a blast while doing so. A highlight of the course was the Adventurous Journey; another worldly experience that involved hiking across a remarkable forest, developing skills along with my friends, and making memories that will always linger.”  

This achievement and the overall success and positive experiences wouldn’t have been possible without our strong community. As echoed by Ms Millington’s motto, “Work Hard, Be Kind” this journey certainly proved that working hard and helping each other led to outstanding results and enhanced learning. The students who, with Ms Brown and Mr Page, went through an experience that is not only inspiring but was transformative. As a school, it warms our community hearing comments like, “I really enjoyed doing The Duke of Edinburgh Award program, as it not only taught me things about our natural surroundings but also how to do group work more effectively” and “I really enjoyed our Adventurous Journey because it taught us to find our way through the wilderness by ourselves and through our successes and mistakes we were able to bond as a group.” It’s an honour to be part of the program, and it’s fantastic to see and hear about how the students managed to navigate the challenges and fears they had to overcome. In many ways, this is exactly what the Duke of Edinburgh International Award is all about, embracing and overcoming challenges, and transforming the lives of young individuals. And to be one of the first schools in the world to embrace and overcome the challenge presented is the very epitome of the character of the course, where the leaders and students demonstrated a Rygaards’ determination and fearlessness against the unprecedented odds.  

Written by Claus Offersen
Communications Officer