Bronze expedition - additional needs programme for young people - case study

This year, we the students and staff of a SEND School have embarked on our amazing Duke of Edinburgh journey, and we have been lucky enough to have the support of Action4Youth. The growth in the 4 students who have had the opportunity to undertake their Bronze expedition with Action4Youth has been immense, with them all completing, and having gained many new skills. Their self esteem, resilience and confidence have increased as has the ability to work alongside and with others.

However, one student in particular has been on a huge journey from first discussions about undertaking her expedition to actually completing her assessed expedition and this has been made possible by the staff at the Caldecotte centre who have worked hard to understand the individual needs of the students.

Anna (name changed for confidentiality) is a 15 year old girl who has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Severe Learning Difficulties and limited verbal communication ; to many it seems impossible that she would be able to undertake her Duke of Edinburgh Award, let alone complete it. The staff at her school and at Caldecotte; however, believed differently and so her journey began. Like many individuals with ASD Anna likes set routines, to know what is happening and when it is happening; as such the expedition section of her Bronze award would pose the greatest challenge, due to the unexpected experiences and events which can happen along the way.

Having been approached by Action 4 Youth with the offer of a Bronze Canoe Expedition for 4 of the students I chose Anna to be one of the 4; in part to push her out of her comfort zone (she is already very comfortable walking) and help her achieve something huge. Way before the start of the expedition phase which was due to take place in February 2020 I met with Caldecotte staff to discuss how we could make it work for Anna. They were more than happy to provide photos of staff, canoes, yurts, along with timetables and social stories for school staff to adapt. At school we used these to prepare Anna so she could understand what was expected of her, where she was going and what to expect. This helped Anna a great deal and allowed her to feel in control of a very new and daunting situation and activity. With this and the preparation at school which included, meal planning, packing etc, we were ready to start our three, 2 day/1 night sessions (training, practice, assessment) at Caldecotte working with our fantastic instructor Alex.

Anna appeared excited when we left school and initially arrived at Caldecotte; however, this changed when we were first shown the canoes and were required to put life jackets on. The moment we showed her the life jacket and canoe she said ‘no, no’ and ran across the field away from the water. Staff followed and Anna was reassured, Alex was patient and worked with the other students, taking time to encourage Anna to join the group whilst working with school staff to make everything work for the students. Over a period of about 45 minutes An-na put her life jacket on and inched her way closer to the water’s edge, eventually agreeing to step into the canoe – but hastily jumping out as the canoe started to move. This was repeat-ed before Anna eventually settled in her seat and allowed others to paddle a short distance out and back into shore. Achievement number one and what an achievement to overcome her fear and get into the boat! This was totally out of Anna’s comfort zone and it was nice to see that the Caldecotte staff were as excited as school staff about this achievement and will always be a highlight that lives in my memory. To transfer this and see her paddling as part of a team on the canal was amazing and brings together everything we had been working to-wards over our sessions at Caldecotte.

Anna has got so much out of her experience; she has developed her social skills and learnt to work more closely with others and as part of a team. This has always been a struggle for Anna; particularly with tasks such as cooking and cleaning where she likes to have complete control and pushes others away; refusing to allow other students or staff to help. Over the period of her Duke of Edinburgh Expedition and with support from staff she has developed the ability to step back a little and let others have a go as well as starting to ask for help when required. This has had a great impact back in school where Anna is now starting to ask for help when she needs it, which in turn will allow her to complete tasks and activities which she would have previously not have completed as she would have become frustrated and anxious at her inability to do something. This and other skills such as staying away from home in an unfamiliar environment will undoubtedly impact her whole future as they will enable her to further develop independence, resilience and perseverance; as well as accepting help when required.

Despite her initial reservations Anna has thoroughly enjoyed the whole expedition experience and has been asking for ‘paddling at Caldecotte’ on numerous occasions; she has felt a real sense of pride and achievement; and will remember her Bronze expedition for years to come. From the start of our time working with Action4Youth they have been amazing and really tried to understand our students and really make the whole expedition experience work for them. They have taken our advice and experience on board and tailored the training and expeditions to meet every individual’s unique needs.

For Anna and her family achieving her Bronze award at the end of the year will be massive and parents have already spoken quite emotionally about what it will mean to them to see her achieve something they would not have thought possible. Next year with her new found independence, confidence and resilience she will be embarking on her Silver award. I would definitely use Action4Youth in the future and would not hesitate to recommend them to other schools and organisations who are looking to engage SEN students in the Duke of Edinburgh award as they not only give the students the opportunity to complete the award but also give staff the opportunity to see how an expedition can be run and what is actually possible.

action4youth and the duke of edinburgh's award

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Anna has gotten so much out of her experience; she has developed her social skills and learnt to work more closely with others and as part of a team.

Teacher, SEND School

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