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Paying tribute to HRH Philip, founder of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award

This month, the world paused to pay tribute to the life and accomplishments of HRH Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Perhaps his greatest legacy is one that has impacted hundreds of boys at St. Andrew’s College. For more than 50 years, Andreans have been part of the most prestigious international youth achievement program, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

Founded in 1956 in Britain and arriving in Canada in 1963, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DEA) was the brainchild of Prince Philip and the founder of Outward Bound, Kurt Hahn. The program was modelled on Prince Philip’s own experiences as a student at Gordonstoun School in Scotland. 

It features four main areas of challenge: community service, skills, physical activity, and the adventurous journey. Levels of challenge increase as young people progress through the Bronze, Silver, and Gold certificates. The award is remarkable in that it sets out a framework for achievement; however, each participant can craft their own journey in each area. It is very much a personal challenge that encourages young people to push themselves beyond their imagination, follow their passions, and explore new skills.

Elements of the award are embedded in all aspects of the St. Andrew’s College experience. Boys are readily engaged in community service ventures through initiatives on and off campus. Skills or hobbies are available to explore through our ACPlus programs. Physical activity is abundant through organized sports teams and student-led games, weight room workouts, and inter-house competitions. 

The adventurous journey is a highlight for the boys involved in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. As part of the Grade 9 Cadet Leadership program, students participate in the skill training and carry out a Bronze-level expedition along the Bruce Trail. In Grade 10, the boys can select between various expeditions such as a fall hike, winter survival challenge, and a spring sea kayak adventure for their Silver certificate. 

For senior boys keen to tackle the Gold level, the SASSAW (St. Andrew’s Service Around the World) program offers global adventurous journeys during August. In addition to these curriculum-based trips, the Cadet Corps provides opportunities for smaller teams to plan customized expeditions to ensure boys can follow their own pathways.  

Most importantly, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award offers a framework to build a balanced, healthy lifestyle. It encourages youth to engage with others in new challenges and ensure that time is devoted to giving back to others less fortunate. Along the journey, the boys develop a greater sense of self-confidence, inner strength, and resiliency to take on life’s challenges. 

In times such as these during the pandemic lockdown, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards allows our students to focus on a fun and challenging program that is truly beneficial in so many ways. As an individual challenge program, the award can be conducted at home, using the online record book and resources provided by the Ontario DEA office. Participants can keep in touch with their team and team leaders virtually during the school year and throughout the summer. 

Over the last 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to lead many Duke of Edinburgh expeditions locally in Ontario, in Turks and Caicos for Gold scuba programs, and, in 2009, I travelled with the SASSAW team to Malawi, in Central Africa. In every experience, it has been fantastic to see young people, often from many different countries, work together as a team to achieve their mission.

Whether trying to light the fire in the pouring rain, rescuing a tipped canoe and its very wet passengers, or singing the school hymn to distract ourselves from the pain of “just one more hill to climb,” each experience has brought us closer together as an Andrean community. I’ve certainly experienced the taste of burnt pasta on a few occasions as well!  

As many of us watched the funeral of HRH Philip on April 17, eight days after he passed away at the age of 99, we can be confident his legacy will continue to live on for years to come. In the rocky waters we face today, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award provides students with the opportunity to, as HRH Philip would say, “stop talking and just get on with it.” Wise words, indeed. 

For those interested in hearing more about the Award at St. Andrew’s College, please contact Major Brian McCue at brian.mccue@sac.on.ca

Story by Brian McCue
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St. Andrew's College
15800 Yonge Street, Aurora, ON L4G 3H7 Canada
Tel: 905-727-3178