Ten pupils from Lochgelly High School are preparing for a life-changing expedition to Arctic Greenland next March.
The seven girls and three boys, all between 14-16 years of age, were selected by the Bo’ness-based charity, The Polar Academy, and now face eight months of tough training to ensure all are physically and mentally equipped for the ten-day 100km expedition in Eastern Greenland.
Each youth will haul his or her own 45kg sledge, navigate, camp on the sea-ice and undertake scientific experiments in support of the Scottish school curriculum.
An additional nine pupils from the school have been selected for the leadership team and will undergo much of the same training as the expedition team.
It is the fourth expedition team to be annually selected by the self-funded charity that aims to inspire youth through exploration.
Craig Mathieson established The Polar Academy in 2014, determined to help positively transform the lives of young people he describes as ‘invisible’ at school and lacking self-confidence, direction and self-esteem.
To date, 30 youths from schools in North Lanarkshire and Edinburgh have seen their lives transformed by the work of the charity.
Significantly, more than 50,000 pupils across Scotland have also heard first-hand accounts of The Polar Academy experience from former participants.
Following their return to Scotland from Greenland, all participants must address school assemblies with the aim of inspiring their peer groups to overcome personal challenges and to pursue their own goals.
Mathieson (48), who in 2013 was named Scotland’s first Explorer in Residence in 129 years by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, described selecting the ten pupils for the latest expedition team as “an agonising decision.”
He explained: “I have no doubt that all 20 of the short-listed pupils would benefit immensely from going to the Arctic – I wish I could take them all.
“The pupils selected should be proud of their decision to bravely step forward and aim to make their lives better. The months ahead promise tough, relentless training and a need for immense individual effort. However, with the support of their school and parents, each has already started their life-changing journey and can now seize the chance to shake off the shackles of self-doubt and despair.
“Let’s also be clear. This is no guided school-trip. These pupils will be working as a team to navigate, ski and camp in some of the world’s most unforgiving terrain but ultimately it will be a hugely positive, life-changing experience. I am very confident they will return from the Arctic bursting with pride, emanating with self-confidence and ready to inspire their peer groups across the country. Their lives are about to get better.”
Carol Ann Penrose, head teacher, also experienced the selection process and will be part of the expedition group and training.
She commented: “One of our big messages as a school and as part of the local community is not to be afraid of challenge but to take it on and believe you can succeed if you are prepared to work hard, pick yourself up and keep going after every setback.
“I am very proud of the pupils. They now have a powerful opportunity to put into practice the school’s belief that with real commitment and determination it’s possible to achieve.
“To be part of this expedition is a real privilege and a once in a lifetime opportunity for me as a person, as well as a head teacher.
“I am certain that it will inspire me to continue to strive for and work towards what I believe in and to fulfil my own aspirations in my personal and professional life, working alongside the young people and families of the Lochgelly community.”
The Polar Academy is wholly self-funded and does not ask pupils to pay for their participation. With the generous support of companies and private donors, it must annually fundraise over £170,000 to operate. Chris Tiso, CEO of Tiso the outdoor adventure retail specialist, is a founding partner of the charity.
Reflecting on the selection of The Polar Academy’s fourth intake of participants, Chris Tiso commented: “Over the past three years I have personally witnessed the remarkable change in the young people who have had the opportunity to experience The Polar Academy.
“I have no doubt that in eight months time, the seven girls and three boys from Lochgelly High will return from Greenland with greater self-confidence and self-esteem, ready to be role models in their local community.
“These are ordinary youths who can – and will – achieve the extraordinary.”
In addition to considerable support from founding partners Tiso Group and Bergans of Norway, the charity is also helped by others such as Cornhill Building Services, Baillie Gifford and by private donations.
Read more about The Polar Academy here.