Camping out of comfort zone

The Mercury's education feature for 12 January, highlighted Dominic College's The Abyss camp and the experience of Cameron Goodsell.

The Abyss is the biggest challenge of the year for Dominic College Year 9 classes.

Students leave their comfort zone behind on a solo camping experience designed to provide them with a significant challenge: they must rely on themselves and apply the concepts of stillness, silence, solitude and reflection.

Mr Andrew Pritchard, Dominic College Director of Pastoral Care K-10, said The Abyss is part of the Empower Program for students in Years 7-10.

“The Empower Program focuses on developing resilience, confidence, independence and values-based decision-making by students. Year 8 and Year 9 Empower classes are gender-differentiated to enable the particular needs of girls and boys to be explored and catered for.”

“In a coeducational environment we have the best of both worlds and can gender split for this program,” said Mr Pritchard. “By Years 8 and 9, students have such strong friendships across both genders. They already appreciate the value of the opposite sex and relate with such ease, so gender splitting for such a program is value-adding to their coeducation experience.”

In Year 9, students go through stages in their journey from childhood to adulthood and are engaged in the experience of farewelling their childhood and moving to adulthood. Mr Pritchard reported that parents were involved at three key points in the Year 9 program. Feedback from parents has been so positive the College has now allocated more time to the Empower program in 2016.

The solo camp, ‘The Abyss’ is the culmination of the Year 7- 9 program.

“It’s a 24-hour camp students participate in, with no electronic devices – no phones, music, or computers; just spending time with themselves in a tent on a large family property the College accesses,” he said.

Cameron Goodsell, Bosco Sports Captain 2016, recalled his solo camp was a time to reflect on what is important.

“It was hard to be by myself,” Cameron said “but I learned to value the time because it rarely happens. Once granted to you, it’s a great chance to think about life, decisions and what you care about.”

Mr Pritchard said students were concerned about how they would cope at first, but almost all said they would choose to do it again. “One of the girls said to me: I learned just how much I take for granted, like a bed, electronics, family, friends, my house and so much more.”

“We strongly emphasise the lessons of self-discipline, independence, and reflection,” he stated. “Students cut ties to the outside world, and have the opportunity to be alone and reflect.”

Dominic College Principal, Ms Beth Gilligan, said, “The Abyss experience is designed so students know and understand the value and benefits of solitude and silence. Students need to learn to put aside time, to consider their values, and priorities, in a society increasingly dominated by technology.”

Now entering its fourth year of implementation, students at Dominic College now look forward to The Abyss. Ms Gilligan said, “The Empower Program has grown within the culture of the school as a unique way for students to prepare themselves for the increased demands of Year 10 and the transition to College, and the resilience required to manage this transition.”