Legend has it that teenagers have no affinity with soap. This is of course a complete fantasy, as any parent knows that modern teenagers must have at least one shower a day, preferably more, each involving a clean towel from the airing cupboard. So I wonder is the acronym SOAP an ironic nod by the East Lothian Outdoor Education team to this proclivity for cleanliness? Or does it have more to do with that early morning whiff that must have hit all of them at some time when they’ve unzipped a tent stuffed with teenagers on a Duke of Edinburgh trip, to try and goad them into action?
Anyhow the Secondary Outdoor Adventure Programme run by the Outdoor Ed team is taking a group of ten Sixth Years from the county High Schools into the Scottish Highlands for a series of weekends over the course of this year. Maybe it was the attraction of building snowholes and using crampons and ice axes, but those letters were out of the school bag before you could say “Snack!”. “Mum, sign here.” Not “Can I do this? Please?” More like “I’m doing this. You need to sign” with an unspoken subtext of “if you don’t I’ll just fake your signature.” GP2’s appetite for this type of activity has been whetted by the expeditions for the silver Duke of Edinburgh award. Kayaking and wild camping weekends with the school and Outdoor Ed team, and particularly kayaking the length of a midge-ridden Loch Awe, just left him wanting more.
So off they all went for a selection weekend at Innerwick. “I really really want to do this. What if I don’t get picked?” They were let loose in Asda for a communal shop, this group that had mostly just met each other, then headed to Innerwick for a Friday evening cook up. Dinner done, dishes done, no time to relax – off they went for a night hike and navigation exercise. I should point out that there had been torrential rain and massive thunderstorms that afternoon – we’d jumped out of our skins when a flash of lightning seemed to crash right into the room we were standing in. But a little bit of water never hurt anyone.
Then it was up at the crack of dawn for wetsuits and a spot of coasteering. From the stories afterwards I think this might have been the most exciting bit of the whole event. Difficult to say, because it was all so exciting. The following few days was “I hope I’ve been picked. I hope I’ve been picked”. He was, of course – they all were – and their first mountain weekend is in a couple of weeks time. It’s called a “summer” weekend. Hmmm – autumn has most definitely arrived but I guess snow is unlikely.
This project is a fantastic opportunity for these teenagers; I was surprised that only ten signed up for it. We were talking over dinner one evening following the riots, with my sister, a special needs teacher, about the perception that it’s the kids who misbehave who get the treats – the football coaching, rock climbing and so on. Lower down the school, it is difficult for the well-behaved youngsters to see the wider picture; bad behaviour seems to bring rewards. Now that my two are older, though, they understand that these “naughty” children don’t have the opportunities and support that they have; they don’t do stuff with their parents out of school and they’re less likely to do well in exams and have the opportunites that come with good results. The SOAP programme and the Duke of Edinburgh scheme have certainly redressed this balance, should it need redressing. They both provide wonderful extra-curricular experiences for these highly motivated teenagers. Bring on the mountain weekends!