Building Great Men in the Great Outdoors

Date: 28 Apr 2023

Bushcraft, bouldering and abseiling from gymnasium roofs may sound more like an episode of Survivor than a high school curriculum - but Dilworth’s transformational new Learning in the Outdoors (LiTO) programme is expertly crafted to unlock potential – and change lives.

Te Haerenga/ The Journey is designed to better prepare students for life beyond Dilworth, developing skills like leadership, resilience and service in an environment outside of the classroom. Ground zero for curriculum delivery is Dilworth’s Mangatāwhiri Campus, previously home for Year 9 students, but now utilised by all year levels. And thanks to an extensive upgrade, the facilities on offer there are nothing short of spectacular.

A state-of-the-art mountain bike track provides riders with slalom courses, technical courses and jumps, while a new climbing wall enables bouldering to a height of 5 metres, belayed climbing to over 9 metres, and abseiling off the top. Currently under construction is an outdoor abseiling platform on the gymnasium roof, a multi-level low ropes/high ropes course and a standing camp equipped with all the infrastructure needed to accommodate 100 young men.

Head of Mangatāwhiri Campus Jamie Pennell has played an integral role in development of the new programme, drawing on his 30-plus years of experience in military leadership, high performance sport and education to help shape the world-class facility.

“Until now my focus has been on adult education, but from here it’s on the next generation,” says Jamie. “This Learning in the Outdoors programme is underpinned by Dilworth’s Ako Puāwaitanga/Flourishing curriculum and provides unrivalled opportunities for personal and social growth that can be difficult to build in a generic classroom environment. A lot of our students have had limited chance to experience things like caving, kayaking and bushcraft, but the benefits to be gained from these kinds of activities are vast. Students develop intangible character traits such as self-confidence and awareness, respect, integrity and cooperation. There’s nothing like lugging packs across a mountain top with your peers to bring out these qualities!”

The Mangatāwhiri Campus is considered base camp, but students will also travel all over the North Island as part of the Te Haerenga curriculum.

“They’ll be doing things like caving in Waitomo, lake kayaking in Taupo and building survival skills during a week-long camp on the West Coast. They’ll experience waka ama on the Waikato River, learn water skills at Wero Whitewater Park, and enjoy a hangi and reflection time with their families.”

Each year group will participate in a uniquely designed programme, often making several visits to the Campus throughout the academic year. The Year 10 peak programme takes place over four weeks, and as well as multiple onsite activities, includes a five-day expedition which will see students staying on a marae, riding the Timber Trail and completing the Tongariro Crossing. Leadership will be a strong focus for the Year 12 cohort, building skills for their final year at the school and strengthening pathways into further studies and employment.

But regardless of what year level students are in, Jamie believes the benefits of the programme will be significant and far-reaching.

“It’s about getting these young men to a point that pushes them outside of their comfort zone and we have every tool in the toolbox to get them there. The reward comes when they push past what they thought they weren’t capable of. The self-worth and self-confidence these achievements generate can be life changing.”