Bell Baxter pupils challenged to take on Polar Academy

Craig, along with Carol Ann, spoke to the children at Bell Baxter this week.
Craig, along with Carol Ann, spoke to the children at Bell Baxter this week.

It has been dubbed the hardest youth programme in Europe – now children at Bell Baxter HS will have the chance to be pushed to their limits.

Explorer Craig Mathieson visited the school this week to announce that S2-S3 children could apply to join the 2019-20 Polar Academy.

The scheme has been running for six years, involving schools across Scotland.

Ten children will be selected and involved in months of training, taking part in everything from cardio to endurance training – whether that means camping in the Cairngorms or dragging tyres along West Sands.

The scheme culminates with the children taking part in an expedition next Easter.

The 10-day expedition will take the children to Greenland – and that is where the challenge begins. It is self-guided, with the students deciding on the route, all the while dragging a sled with their gear on board.

Craig explained that the scheme was aimed at the quieter children at schools, with the aim of building their confidence.

“This is the group that is hardy and tough and get through,” he said.

“They will do everything themselves. This isn’t a wee guided trip. They will make the decisions.”

Craig, who has previously led Scottish expeditions to both the north and south poles, explained that he chose to run the project at Bell Baxter because of its new rector, Carol Ann Penrose.

“I look for true leaders,” he explained. “The school has to prove to me that they have the leadership skills to do this. I’ve known Carol Ann for a long time and there is none better.”

Carol Ann had previously taken part in the Polar Academy when she was rector at Lochgelly HS.

“I was keen to bring it to Bell Baxter because of the benefits it brought to Lochgelly.

“I noticed a huge change in the kids. One girl who was really disengaged became head girl. Other kids went to university. They become real achievers. They believe that they can do stuff.”

“When the children have someone believing in them, they achieve,” added Craig.