2019 Headboy, Casper Venter, pictured here during the Adventure Challenge in Zambia

The ‘Adventure’ has only just begun

As I put pen to paper to write this penultimate ‘blog’ as Headmaster of Stanford Lake College, our Adventure Racing teams have just completed a very successful African Adventure Challenge for schools, held in Zambia, where our two teams, Ubuntu and Tshanduko, finished first and third respectively. This multi-disciplinary event is the culmination of a busy year of adventure sport at Stanford Lake College and gives the teams an opportunity to showcase the multitude of skills that they have learnt and developed in their time at the College.
As someone with a background in Sports Psychology, adventure sport has always struck me as the perfect metaphor for life. Whether it be Mountain biking, Trail Running, Kayaking or Adventure Racing these sports pit you, not only against the environment but, against your inner demons and weaknesses as well. The physical and emotional endurance that these athletes have displayed across the hundreds of kilometres and tens of hours of racing will have seen them reach into the depths of their courage and resolve. This challenge is just one of the many adventure sports competitions that Stanford Lake College students take part in – each of these activities, adding to our ‘Hahnian’ vision of developing young people through exposure to experiential learning. These activities take them outside of their comfort zones and get them to see that ‘there is more in them than they dare to know’.
Adventure sport at Stanford Lake College has its roots in the early years of the College when the visionary Anne van Zyl, the then Head of the College, appointed Thias Taute to head up the ‘Dream an’ Do Outdoor centre’. The centre was based on what Anne had seen in Australia when she visited a number of Australian schools. Amongst these was ‘Timbertop’ the outdoor campus of Geelong Grammar School, where she began formulating her ideas of what a uniquely Stanford adventure programme would look like. It was at a similar time that Anne, who had joined Stanford from her role as founding Head of St. Stithian’s Girls College, also took Stanford Lake College into the Round Square organisation. This membership served to emphasise the integral role that experiential learning, Service, Environment and Adventure would play in moulding young Stanfordians for years to come. Over the years the likes of Thias Taute, Gary Townsend, James Quibell, Wik van der Walt, Niel Haarhoff and Tiaan Fullard, all highly recognised figures in outdoor education in South Africa, have added their unique skills and knowledge to the school’s outdoor programme, making Stanford Lake College one of the leading Outdoor Education schools worldwide.
Stanford is unique regarding Outdoor Education in South Africa. In the College’s Bridging Year, Grade 8 and Grade 9, all the students, spend the equivalent of a full academic day per fortnight down at the College’s ‘Dream an’ Do Outdoor Education Centre’ alongside Troutbeck Lake or Lakeside as the locals fondly know it. A name one assumes is derived from the Lake being alongside Stanford Lake, a lake named after Harley Stanford, a Dulwich College alumnus, who owned the neighbouring farm and built the Lake so that he could have a place to exercise his love for fly-fishing. Harley would be proud to see the number of young Stanfordians practising his favourite art on the Lake nowadays. But, I digress. The junior students at Stanford Lake College follow an outdoor classroom programme written specifically to build a skillset of entrepreneurial thinking, critical and creative problem-solving skills. In this programme the Outdoor Instructors use the Round Square Discovery Framework and ‘SMART’ programmes to explicitly build a ‘toolbox’ of skills for the students as well as an outdoor practical skills programme aimed at developing, amongst other things, their camp craft skills, climbing, rafting, mapwork skills and ability to work in a team. During these classroom and practical sessions, the students’ skills are scaffolded to prepare them for ‘treks’ which are of an ever-increasing difficulty in nature. These ‘treks’ start with the Bridging students spending overnight camping trips away from school. In Grade 8 the students venture further afield to summit first the ‘Iron Crown’, the highest point in Limpopo, during a multi-day and night hike before later in the year summiting both the ‘Iron Crown’ and ‘Serala’, the second highest point in Limpopo, in a ‘trek’ that has become affectionately known as ‘Twin Peaks’. In Grade 9 the students take on ever more difficult adventures with their first ‘trek’ of the year seeing the students spending seven days first hiking across the Wolkberg Mountain range before joining up with Olifants river and spending four days White Water Rafting down the river. The second Grade 9 ‘trek’, known as the ‘Solo Trek’, involves the students self-navigating through the Soutpansberg mountains before spending 24 hours in total isolation in a self-built bivouac with the trek taking its name from this event.
The ‘Dream an’ Do’ programme and the schools focus on adventure sport is not by chance. By putting in place a structured framework where students explicitly build character traits such as self-awareness, resilience, courage, tenacity, teamwork and problem-solving ability as well as the key skills of critical and creative thinking, the students are building within themselves a set of skills which are essential to ensuring their success beyond the walls of our school. These critical skills are becoming even more important as we move into a new technology dominated era and will stand our students in good stead in every single aspect of their lives. It is not uncommon to hear Old Stanfordians reflecting on the positive impact that the ‘Dream an’ Do’ programme had on their development, not only as students but as young people who have gone on to make a difference in the world around them. What is clear is that the vision that Anne van Zyl had for the Stanford Lake College Outdoor programme is still going strong and has, over the years, contributed significantly to the holistic education that Stanford Lake College so rightly prides itself on.