Enriching student connections with school values

At Koonung Secondary College in Victoria, students have participated in the Great Victorian Bike Ride for a number of years. However, last year, the ride had an additional focus.

‘We have traditionally run this event, due to staff and student interest and expertise,' Marianne Lee, Principal at Koonung Secondary College, tells Teacher. ‘However, this was the first time a link was made between the event and the work which was being done through the [school's] Reconciliation Action Group.'

The Great Victorian Bike Ride is an annual bike event where beginner and experienced riders cycle and camp for five to 10 days, depending on their chosen route. School groups are welcome to participate, and last year Koonung Secondary College students cycled a total of 541 kilometres.

Ensuring there are explicit links between out-of-school activities, like camps and trips, and the school's values is a focus, Lee says. For the bike ride, it's not just the ride itself that connects with the wider school ethos, but the process leading up to the event as well.

Before joining the riding team, students must complete an application. This includes discussing their motivations behind wanting to take part and demonstrating an understanding of the importance of teamwork, respect, and reliability.

‘All of our out-of-school experiences include an application process asking potential participants to think about their involvement, and the learning that will come from participation,' she explains.

‘Training runs, planning meetings and a contract of conduct is included and needs to be agreed upon by all participants. The teachers involved use these sessions, and the ride itself, to discuss all of these aspects and link the event to our school values of excellence, endeavour, respect, resilience, creativity and collaboration.'

This process also encourages them to demonstrate an understanding of the responsibilities that come from representing not only the school, but themselves and their families in the community, she adds.

Collaborating with the community

Before the ride took place, significant time was dedicated to communicate with Indigenous Elders in order to ensure members of the cycling group understood the significance of the event.

‘We also sought permission and advice from the Wurundjeri Council and their elders to ensure we were respectful and appropriate in our message,' Lee explains. ‘Another important experience for the students was listening to a number of guest speakers invited by the school to speak about life as an Indigenous Australian.'

Work also began on designing a commemorative jersey for students to wear during the ride.

‘The students' jerseys strongly identified them as supporters of Aboriginal people, as people who want to build understanding and improve relationships,' Marilyn Faithfull, Director of Learning (Literacy and Numeracy) says.

‘They had listened to Indigenous men Kyle Vander Kuyp and Michael Nawaal, who visited Koonung when the students received their jerseys. During the ride, they had linked up with Aboriginal riders from the Northern Territory and had answered questions about their jerseys from other riders.'

Authentic learning experiences

Student experiences with Indigenous Australians and the ride itself assisted in ensuring a meaningful learning experience took place.

‘That they had had more than a week of being in an environment dominated by nature and had faced challenges on many fronts, perhaps made them more open and reflective than they may have otherwise been,' she adds.

Jane Thornton, former Learning Specialist: Pedagogical Coach at the school, says students demonstrated a strong sense of pride throughout the nine-day trip.

‘We were all proud to wear our Ride for Reconciliation Kit,' she reflects. ‘When we were asked about our kit, students would always name [Koonung student] Blair as the designer and then explain how we are learning about and raising awareness of reconciliation. When anyone in the group was asked, we would all slow down on our bikes and move in so we could hear their response. Students were learning from each other.'

Marianne Lee says having an application process asking potential participants to think about their involvement, and the learning that will come from participation, can help the school create explicit links for students between out of school experiences and the whole school ethos.

Thinking about your own school context, how could a formal application process for voluntary school trips enhance student understanding about the significance of this experience?

Schools interested in participating in the Great Victorian Bike Ride can visit greatvic.com.au