A rapids response

1st February 2008 at 00:00
Throw off your fears and go wet and wild to build a great team spirit, says Aidan Leonard.

Some teachers would be horrified at the idea of taking pupils white-water rafting. What if something goes wrong? What if there's an accident? But if you always thought like that, life would be very dull.

Safety is paramount and you have to do a thorough risk assessment. But that applies to any kind of trip.

The key is to use a company you trust. We go with PGL and they're excellent. When windsurfing, they prepare different risk assessments depending on which part of the lake you launch from.

The holiday we choose is called Adrenalin Extra - a week in the French Alps is as extreme as anything on the market. It starts with a tough, full-day hike up a mountain, with an overnight bivouac. Constructing a shelter is a good problem-solving exercise - if the pupils get it wrong they're going to be cold and uncomfortable.

The rest of the week is wet and wild. There are so many different ways to get yourself down rapids these days. Best of the lot is hydrospeeding, where you put on a thick wetsuit, flippers and a crash helmet and just allow yourself to be carried by the current with only a body board. These are long descents of up to nine miles, and you're in the water for about two hours.

The highlight of the week is coming down the River Ubaye, which is extremely difficult and really quite scary. We're an all-girls comprehensive and the instructors are always shocked when we turn up. One of them told me ours was the only group of girls on the Ubaye that year.

It's a wonderful holiday. And that's what I think of it as - a holiday. But it has huge benefits in terms of personal development. The pupils are exposed to a different language and they're developing important team skills - it takes eight people to carry a raft and if one of them isn't pulling their weight, it won't work. They are constantly challenging themselves and everyone comes back brimming with confidence.

It also cements relationships between pupils and staff. They like and trust you, and will happily come to you if they have any problems. It builds a positive atmosphere throughout the school.

Aidan Leonard teaches at Sandbach High School in Cheshire. He was talking to Steven Hastings. www.pgl.co.uk.

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