In September, less than a week after school starts, all SAC Middle School students pack their bags and hop on a bus for an outdoor educational experience called Beyond the Gates. The Beyond the Gates four-day curriculum is designed to challenge the boys increasingly from grade to grade and allow them to explore nature and reconnect with the environment. Many new boys are meeting friends and adjusting to their new school; others have never been away from home for more than a night or two. Some have never slept outdoors or paddled a canoe. Regardless of their past experiences, every Middle School student is meeting a new challenge from the moment he steps on the bus.
The theme of the grade 6 program is Community Building. The highlight of this program is a fast-paced survival game similar to hide-and-go-seek in the woods. Other activities include canoe and kayak skills, a low-ropes course, and outdoor living skills to prepare them for the grade 7 program.
The grade 7 theme is Leadership Development, to help the students find the leader within. Leadership comes in many forms, and through this program the boys discuss their own strengths and weaknesses; they are put in many team-oriented situations, such as setting up camp, fire building, or an Eco-Challenge, all of which call on different skills and leadership styles to accomplish the required task. This four-day, three-night program includes one overnight, where the boys not only sleep outdoors, but also cook their dinner over the fire. These skills are in preparation for the grade 8 canoe trip in Algonquin Park.
On the grade 8 trip, the boys sleep one night in a cabin and set out early the next morning on an unforgettable three-day wilderness adventure. The boys spend three days canoeing, portaging, and witnessing the beautiful fall colours. Hungry and tired, they arrive at their camp site and have to then make their meal, clean up, and set up camp. Only after all the essential survival materials are taken care of can they explore their site, swim or relax. Every student’s favourite part is sitting by the fire at night playing games or telling camp stories. This often does not last for long, as their tired eyes and sore arms propel them toward their sleeping bags for a good night’s sleep. On the last day, they return to camp with a different outlook – they have accomplished something significant as a team, and they have overcome a personal challenge.
Every boy’s triumph is different, but they all return with a greater appreciation of nature, of their own potential, and of their fellow Andreans’ strengths and individualism.