17-year-old Ciara Vogler has her goal in sight: finish her final requirements and receive the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Gold Award. SPIRE Institute and Academy (IA) was more than happy to help her reach that goal by providing a boarding school in the USA where she could meet her Duke of Edinburgh residential requirement while taking swim training as well.The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award is a special recognition of a young individual’s goal setting abilities and self-improvement through persistence and achievement. Past award recipients include Kate Middleton.
The awards span three levels: bronze, silver and gold, with each level getting more challenging as the participant progresses. Individual award sections require completion of activities in the areas of public service, skills development, physical recreation, a journey and, for gold participants, completion of residential projects. The awards are open to anyone between the ages of 14 and 25.
“The Duke of Edinburgh International Award is a great stepping stone in furthering your career or education,” Ciara explains. “The program keeps you motivated and has many positive impacts. It shows employers and universities that you are dedicated and committed to succeed.” Ciara has been participating in the program, along with her twin sister, Erin, since she was 14.
Even before enrolling at SPIRE in the United States, Ciara was no stranger to the international landscape. She has lived in Ireland, currently resides in Japan, and is currently in a boarding school in the United Kingdom where she is an eleventh grader. Her favorite Duke of Edinburgh activity was volunteering for the Royal Mencap Society, which focused on improving the quality of life for the UK’s mentally challenged individuals. “I volunteered by running games and things,” Ciara said. “I loved it, and I found out I really enjoyed working with people.”
Ciara found that a year-long quarantine kept her from her favorite sport, swimming. She decided that enrolling at SPIRE would be a great opportunity for her to finish her residential requirement in a world class athletic academy, while also getting back into the pool.
“The residential requirement involves staying somewhere away from your peer group. You stay somewhere new for at least two weeks and interact with people from different backgrounds to build confidence and independence,” Ciara explained. “I was only going to stay at SPIRE for a month, but I loved it so much I ended up staying for nearly two months.”
Ciara found herself in the boarding school, far from home and with an incredibly busy schedule. “I was still enrolled in school, so I had to do online school the entire time I was there,” she said. “Then, in the afternoons, I would head to the pool for my swim training.”
Ciara was impressed by SPIRE’s facilities and the support of leadership and her peers. “Everyone is so supportive,” she recalls. “The facilities are amazing, and Coach Thad Schultz is incredible.”
Director of Aquatics Schultz enjoyed his time with Ciara. “Ciara is a very talented and smart young lady. She had one of the talents that coaches most like to see, and that’s that she is coachable!” Coach Schultz adds, “She listens very well and works to make changes. She made friends with all of our swimmers here quickly and we hope to see her back with us soon. She wasn’t with us long enough to do a complete training cycle with her, but we have our fingers crossed that she returns in the fall!”
Ciara is one of only 15 of her classmates who has seen the entire process through, hoping to have the gold by early to mid-June. Ciara explains that many participants drop out of the program after the bronze and silver awards and seeing it through to completion is an achievement.
“SPIRE helped me achieve my goals,” Ciara said. “I could rave about SPIRE athletic academy, the staff, the students and the facilities forever. I really loved the experience and hope to go back.”
Ciara encourages international students to experience SPIRE. “Go for it! Don’t even hesitate. It was such a good experience. Even though it was scary not knowing anyone, everyone was so supportive and the facilities are amazing.”
Ciara is excited for her final achievement; a five-day camping trip where the focus will be on teamwork. After she completes this final project, she will be receiving the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award at Buckingham Palace. As of 2021, the holder of the Duke of Edinburgh title is Prince Charles, who inherited the title on 9 April 2021 upon the death of his father Prince Phillip.
Ciara has already chosen her grandmother as her “plus one.” “My grandmother is thrilled to be going to Buckingham Palace. We hope to meet the Queen. It’s really exciting!”