Pupils from a Sussex college have made two firsts: a tripto the North Pole and using the Web to stay in touch. Michael Prochak reports
Last spring two Royal Marines failed in their bid to become the first Britons to walk unsupported to the geographical North Pole from Canada, but eight pupils from Robertsbridge Community College became the first school group to reach the magnetic North Pole.
The Polarwatch team from East Sussex travelled in a Twin Otter plane to the Pole where the temperature was minus 30.
The team also scored another first by including the first twins ever to reach the Magnetic North Pole, John and William Rigby. Throughout the expedition, a satellite Internet communicator allowed the college to maintain a website chronicling the expedition's progress and letting team members answer questions sent by email.
The Polarwatch Team also used email to communicate regularly with pupils, staff and parents in Sussex and send pictures taken with a digital camera.
The small rural school's link-up and participation in the polar expedition was the brainchild of the college's arts co-ordinator Kevin Hayter, who has reached the magnetic and geographic North Poles four times with his wife Ann Diver.
Before Hayter's most recent visit, he approached college head Brian Harley who gave the go-ahead to take students on a similar trip. Hayter then contacted the Marines and he and Diver, a teacher in Brighton, lead pupils from Years 8 and 9 on the college expedition.
Michael Hopps, head of technology at Robertsbridge, planned the Internet and radio links needed to maintain contact with the Marines and the students and created the website. This application of the Web is now being used as a model for schools wanting to exploit the Internet's creative and educational potential.
Hayter wants to take another expedition to the Pole in April so pupils can participate in the largest ever hand-over of territory to native Inuits.