Our beautiful environment, accessible bush walks, mountain treks, rivers and beaches afford numerous opportunities for New Zealanders of all ages to enjoy the great outdoors. Outdoor adventures provide valuable learning experiences for children and can also help to shape character and reveal hidden talents.
I’m a strong supporter of high-quality outdoor education programmes and I acknowledge the fine work and leadership of all who provide these experiences.
Because outdoor education programmes were often expensive, limiting participation by pupils from less affluent homes, in 2003 the Perry Foundation trustees resolved to provide affordable opportunities for low-decile secondary schools in Waikato to assist as many young people as possible to experience the outdoors.
Following wide consultation with people involved in the outdoor sector, educators and funding organisations, a Perry Outdoor Education Trust (POET) pilot was run at Ngaruawahia High School, providing support for teacher-facilitated outdoor education programmes, with an end focus of building positive relationships between teachers and students, students and their peers, and creating a positive culture within the school, and better learning outcomes.
The pilot was a success and, until 2015, POET grew and worked in the Waikato, South Auckland, Waitakere, Bay of Plenty and Christchurch, with 13 low-decile schools and more than 8000 students.
However, funding became increasingly difficult to source outside the Waikato area, and last year the Board made the decision to become a Waikato Regional Trust and focus solely on providing outdoor education experiences for low-decile schools within our region.
This change has opened up new opportunities for six low-decile schools in Waikato – Te Kauwhata, Melville, Huntly, Ngaruawahia, Waihi, and Forest View High School in Tokoroa. The only school outside the Waikato region to remain with the programme is Kawerau High School, a decile one school that has been seeing excellent results with POET. The Trust aims to increase the number of schools involved by two a year, and grow their presence in the Waikato.
Karen Singers is the Manager of POET and, together with her team of two, provides a mix of expertise to schools, such as assisting with camps, professional development and direct funding which subsidises the cost of a four-day outdoor camp to $50 per pupil.
Karen notes that recent Health and Safety legislative changes made little difference to the organisation. "We’ve always made sure young people and schools we are associated with are doing a really good job around safety, so for us, nothing has changed. You just have to make sure you have good systems in place, and that’s where POET can help schools with safety management systems reviews and recommendations. Safety is our number one priority."
POET’s operational, staffing and programme costs are $500,000 annually. To date, these have been met through a mix of gaming funding and philanthropic funding, including WEL Energy Trust and
Trust Waikato, who have "always been fantastic supporters". Gaming funding can be problematic when organising programmes that are long-term and need to be planned well in advance, as the money is not guaranteed. "We need to be sure we can book a venue or the school can have the experience in January of next year, and we need to be planning for that now," says Karen. "We can’t be crossing our fingers that we are going to get the funding; we need certainty."
Because of this, POET needs to look at different ways of being more sustainable and is seeking commercial sponsorship for the first time.
A Key Sponsor opportunity exists along with opportunities to donate through Friends of POET for businesses or people who share the same vision and believe all students should have the opportunity to experience affordable, safe outdoor education. "Making a donation is a big way to help," says Karen.
As a schoolboy, I was lucky to participate in regular outdoor activities while acquiring my bronze, silver and gold certificates for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards Scheme. It was one of the most worthwhile and rewarding activities that I undertook in my youth. POET partners locally with the Hillary Duke of Edinburgh Scheme and we are fortunate to have both organisations in our region. Thanks to POET, many of today’s young people in our region may also grow in confidence, develop leadership skills, become good citizens and develop a lifelong love of the outdoors. More information on programmes provided and how to donate can be found at www.poet.org.nz.