Meeting a member of the Royal Family is just one perk for young people involved in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Young Canadians Challenge. Designed to help youth develop a sense of themselves and their community, the leadership-in-action program is open to 14- to 25-year-olds around the globe.
Although the program was initially designed for street kids, Canada's independent schools are embracing the program and its philosophies, says Jill Hermant, executive director of the award's Ontario division. Seventy-six independent schools (including many listed with OurKids.net), are involved, representing 4,900 students.
"It lends itself well to the core values of a lot of independent schools," explains Susan Hazell, executive director of the Canadian Association of Independent Schools.
Founded in the United Kingdom in 1956, the program encompasses bronze, silver and gold awards; each demands an increased time commitment. To qualify, young people must complete four sections: community service, an expedition, one of 200 hobby or vocational skills, and physical recreation. Those going for gold add a residential project, living and working with those who are not part of their everyday life.
Ontario's Lakefield College School boasts among the highest number of gold recipients in the country. Senior student Lauren Allen recently earned gold. She spent three months in South Africa as part of the residential requirement, something she might not have considered otherwise. "The opportunities are there and it encourages you to take advantage of them," she says.
Because of Lakefield College School's emphasis on outdoor activities, the students already do a lot of what is required, says teacher David Walsh, the school's group leader for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. In Grade 9, bronze is part of the curriculum, but after that individuals can follow through on earning silver and gold.
This year 183 students, or about half the school, got involved.
The incentives are plentiful. Not only is the award presentation exciting and the activities fun, but listing the Duke of Edinburgh's Award on resumes and university applications holds a lot of weight, Walsh says. "The program is a bonus in terms of what it can help them achieve later in life."