Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Programme Building Character at Cumberland High


The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DEA) programme at the Cumberland High School in Portmore, St. Catherine provides fun and adventure for students. More importantly, the programme is building character and equipping the young people of that institution for life.
Programme mentor and leader, Marsha Watson who also heads the Department of Languages at Cumberland High, was instrumental in establishing the programme, which has been used as a vehicle for students’ spiritual, social, and social development.
On any given Friday evening a large group of students either in regular uniforms or wearing tunics in the Club’s colours of yellow and black, can be found meeting under a large evergreen tree on the school’s lawn. The DEA club has the largest membership at Cumberland High with 40 student volunteers, drawn from all Grades. JIS News soon discovers why students are willing to spend extra hours behind at school, on a Friday evening when most are eager to begin a frolic-filled weekend.
The DEA programme consists of practical, cultural, and adventurous activities. Started in Britain in 1956, and brought to Jamaica in the 1980’s, it is designed for use by licensed agencies, including special and independent schools, national youth organizations, services, industrial and commercial firms, and any organization having a concern for the development of young people. The programme was originally aimed at getting boys involved in activities other than academics. Since then, it has been extended to include girls.
In a JIS News interview, Miss Watson says that the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards Club was started at Cumberland in February 2001.
“Since then, five students have received the Gold Award, and over 30 students have received Bronze and Silver Awards. Presently we have 25 students working on completing the bronze awards and another five working on silver awards, with three students working on completing the gold award,” she informs.
Miss Watson explains that the Award is a four-prong programme with three levels: bronze, silver, and gold. Open to persons between the ages of 14 to 25, persons 14 and older are at the Bronze level, while those aged 15 and older are at the Silver level, and those aged 16 and older are at the Gold level.
Members are required to complete tasks in four areas, including service, which involves helping people in the community; skill, covering any hobby or interest; physical recreation, covering sport, dance and fitness; and expeditions, which requires training for, planning, and completing a journey on foot or horseback, boat or cycle, before they can qualify for either of the awards. Gold awardees are expected to do a residential project, described in the DEA’s fact book as “a purposeful enterprise with people not previously known to the participant.”
Miss Watson further elaborates that, “For service, you have a certain amount of hours that you have to give outside regular work hours; for skill, you have to learn a new skill or move from a basic level to intermediate or advanced level and this has to be done over a six- month period. For the physical recreation task, students are required to learn a new sport over a six-month period. You cover 36 hours at bronze and it increases by 10 (hours) as you go further in the programme”.
According to the programme mentor, students usually embark on a planned weekend expedition on Fridays. The atmosphere is charged when its time for an expedition, says Miss Watson. By the end of the school day, the jeans and sneaker- clad group carrying large backpacks, can barely contain their excitement as they prepare for a trek to the Blue Mountains or an exploration of the Quashie Caves in Trelawny, all places the club has visited. But it is not all fun and games, she notes, as it calls for high levels of organization, cooperation and a fair knowledge of maps, compasses, and country codes among other things.
“This takes in a lot of team work, planning and organization. You are placed in groups and you have to go on expeditions in those groups. you have to find your way using maps and compasses. Once you have found your destination, you have to prepare your meals – at least one cooked meal per day,” she informs.
Students are expected to take notes and write a report, based on the purpose of the expedition. They may have to “examine the types of flowers at Blue Mountain peak. So you have to take photographs of these different types of flowers and say how these design the countryside, how many you saw, whether they are common or unique to the area or country in general at the end of the exploration,” she adds, noting that this same procedure was followed by students on the last expedition, which was a tour of the Quashie Caves.
The skills that students learn in the programme are not part of any textbook curriculum. Under the direction of Miss Watson, the DEA has activated the mandate conveyed by the Award’s vision of developing young people to their full potential. They learn survival and leadership skills, and a host of other positive values that young people need. “In service and expeditions, a leader is chosen each time we go out in the field, and the leaders are rotated on an expedition. If you’re not a leader you’re in charge of something..So each person develops some form of responsibility, leadership,” she said.
Miss Watson also underscored the feeling of belonging that is fostered by the club. “The main benefit is family. It gives them a family unit because most of them are from homes where there’s not much of a family unit, a listening ear, or a shoulder to cry on, and the programme itself is as such that a part of the greeting of the ‘Duker’ is to hug when (they) greet.
And that is very important to many of the participants here at Cumberland. One young lady said she had never been hugged by her mother or anyone, so this was really special for her,” Mrs. Watson tells JIS News. “The second thing it develops is self confidence, self esteem, because they see themselves in a much better light, and self discipline of course ultimately comes after that. They perform much better in classes, and they’re more respectful to their teachers and their parents, and they participate more in the school’s activities once they become a part of the programme, because they are so used to being involved in something that everything has become second nature,” Miss Watson continues.
The Cumberland High School ‘Dukers’ have been involved in community service activities, mainly targeting children and senior citizens. “On average we have one major international service day which is usually in November, and last year’s service day focused on serving the police station closest to you,” she told JIS News. The most recent service day saw the Cumberland High ‘Dukers’ on expedition to Hollywell in St Andrew, teaming up with the Jamaica College ‘Dukers’ and carrying out service activities at the Irish Town police station.
Outside of that Miss Watson says, “service is given where service is needed” as points are allotted for all service hours. “At school when there is a function, students jump in and take part in cleaning up or aiding in preparation,” she notes.
Voluntary community work was also undertaken in two state-owned homes. During a visit to the Golden Age home, students were initially “intimidated with what they saw,” Miss Watson recalls, “Then they warmed up to them (senior citizens) and enjoyed just sitting and hearing stories about the good old days, combed their hair, helped them dress, eat and so on”.
The Glenhope Place of Safety’s nursery also received a facelift, courtesy of the Cumberland ‘Dukers’. There also participated in caring for the residents for the day.
This is the essence of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Through a commitment to its programmes, young people are acquiring self-reliance and a sense of responsibility to others, both essential qualities of citizenship promulgated by the Award Office.
Gold Awardees did their final service awards for 2005/2006 by initiating a dance society at the Gospel Light Church of God in Portmore where they started a dance ministry, training children of the Sunday school there in dance. The group also prepared the children for a Christmas and Easter Cantata to close off their service hours.
At the awards ceremony, held at the Pegasus Hotel in Kingston once per year, gold awardees receive a gold embedded certificate, a gold brooch for the females and a gold tie pin for males. The significance of a Gold Award, Miss Watson explains, is “that you have been trained at the highest point and are now prepared to go into leadership training.”
This takes place during an expedition in the summer, with some segments of the training conducted in Jamaica and others in another Caribbean country.
Last year the expedition was held in Antigua, and will be held in Trinidad and Tobago this year. “So all young persons who are Gold holders, and who are mature enough to take on leadership positions will go over for the first leg of the leadership training,” she discloses.
But while the achievement of being a recipient of the highest award in the programme is significant for students who were awarded, the exposure to a formal social environment is a bonus for the Club members who attend. “They are exposed to a lot of things they would not be exposed to normally and they are able to participate (in events) they would not have been able to afford or they wouldn’t have known of prior to the programme.the ceremony is a very formal event, an interesting event. They are excited about that,” she informs.
Several students were also invited to the Gold Awards ceremony held at Kings House during the recent visit of the Earl of Wessex, Prince Edward. “They got to mingle with the Prince and the Governor General and Members of Parliament, and other persons. The exposure is very good for them,” Miss Watson points out.
Traveling extensively on expeditions across the country, students “get to learn a lot about their country,” Miss Watson tells JIS, “because we don’t go to the same place all the time. Service is done all over, as well as expeditions. We’ve been on explorations from Montego Bay all the way back to Portland.”
In receiving awards by their voluntary efforts, students are gaining a broader outlook on life, Miss Watson emphasizes. The 40 students at Cumberland have now joined 225,000 other young people in 80 countries across the world, who are learning by experience, the importance of commitment, enterprise, and effort, as was envisioned by the Duke of Edinburgh fifty years ago.
Miss Watson is optimistic that the programme will replace the self-defeating attitudes found among the student body, who as a result of their often unstable and challenging social and academic background, often suffer from low self-esteem.
She adds that the programme encourages the talents of students and complements academics. At national expeditions and awards ceremonies, students are required to provide entertainment packages, which enables them to sing, dance and act. “It pulls on your academic (skills) as well, because you are asked to write reports of whatever experiences you have. it allows them to see what opportunities are available, what skills they have and how well they can use it,” she points out.
In November 2005, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Ministry of Education and Youth and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Programme, to officially launch the programme in all secondary and tertiary institutions islandwide, within two years.
Sixty-six units are presently operating under the programme, catering to approximately 1,100 young people in schools, churches, Girls and Boys Brigades, as well as groups in prisons. Governor General, His Excellency, the Most Honourable Professor Kenneth Hall is the Award’s Patron.
In February of this year, Prince Edward presented gold awards to 34 young people from high schools and community groups across the island, for outstanding achievement in skill areas, community service, recreation and expedition.
Statistics from the DEA International organisation reveal that approximately three million young people have taken up the challenge of the Award since it began.
In 2004/2005 more than 138,000 young people vied for the award. Some two million hours of voluntary community work are undertaken by all Award participants over a year, and across the world, 80 countries operate the Award Programme in one form or another. The DEA was established by the Award’s international Patron, His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip.

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