The location of Somerset College on a 32 hectare estate in the Cape Winelands gives pupils a rare opportunity to explore their natural surroundings and to further their education in a unique and engaging way.
The flagship of the College Outdoor Education Programme is the Trek, which is now in its 19th year. This is a journey of self-discovery, undertaken by all Grade 9 pupils in November each year, during which time they cover 360km on foot, in canoes and on bicycles. It is a remarkable journey that starts on foot from the school and ends on the beach in the De Hoop Nature Reserve 27 days later.
Trek embodies and teaches pupils the seven R’s of the Outdoor Education programme at Somerset College: Rites of Passage, Relationships, Reach, Rootedness, Responsibility, Risk and Reflection.
The entire Grade 9 year group is divided into single-sex groups of approximately 14 pupils, and each group is allocated two adults; some of whom are teachers and some past-pupils.
Pupils are given the opportunity to lead their group each day where they make decisions affecting the group, thus learning the importance of teamwork.
To survive and flourish in the outdoors, pupils learn to prepare their own meals, basic camping skills, map work and washing their clothes. It is a special time of reflection, adventure and of mental, spiritual and physical growth – a true rite of passage.
During their time away, pupils are involved in community service in one of the towns they pass through. This not only provides a change in their daily routine, but is also a wonderful opportunity for them to make a difference in the lives of others.
Trek is the only school adventure of this magnitude in South Africa, and teaches children to operate in groups, and to move towards a deep understanding of themselves within the universe.
Experienced mountain and river guides accompany the groups on particular stretches of the route, and medical assistance by doctors and medical staff in towns close to the route are arranged beforehand.
The goodwill and assistance of farmers along the way also ensure the success of Trek, and form part of the cocoon of protection planned by the dedicated Trek organisers.
Coming at a crucial point in adolescence – the end of the Grade 9 year – when they are busy challenging the world around them, Trek takes pupils out of their comfort zone and forces them to confront their real selves.
There are no electronic devices, no parent taxis, no fast food deliveries and no cell phones, but that is not to say that Trekkers have no communication with the outside world.
Instead of cell phones, they write letters to their friends and family; a forgotten life skill. In the great outdoors Trekkers have the opportunity to overcome difficulties, to reflect deeply, and to take stock of their lives. Life skills which cannot be taught in a classroom.
In short, Trek is so much more than a long hike; it is a mental, physical and emotional challenge that has changed many young lives.
It is carefully planned with considerable attention to safety issues, and the selection of the adults who go with each group.
Many societies throughout history have established rites of passage as children engage in their teenage years. In South Africa many schools use initiation, which often has negative connotations. The College doesn’t subscribe to initiation, but sees Trek as a rite of passage that focuses on the positive, and out of which young people emerge stronger, fitter and healthier – and ready to tackle the last three years of their schooling.
“This excellent programme could not be undertaken without the commitment, hard work (and courage) of our parents, staff, and students and a dedicated outdoor education department, and a board, committed to the values inherent in a programme that seeks to enhance and deepen the educational experience of pupils at Somerset College.” comments Meg Fargher, the executive head of Somerset College.