In the early hours of Sunday the 5th March 2017, 8 pupils and 4 staff members from Falkland House School set off on the first foreign holiday undertaken by the school. For the last three years an annual ski trip to Glenshee has been on offer to the boys. This has been in preparation for our most ambitious excursion so far, a week-long trip to the resort of Pila in the Aosta Valley in Northern Italy.
To be considered for a place on the trip, the boys had to be in S4 to S6 and had to have previously successfully completed a ski trip in Scotland. The Ski Trip is provided by the School for a number of reasons. It creates an opportunity to deliver units of the Personal and Social Development Award which is administered by the SQA. This involves the boys considering their skills and abilities in a range of situations and setting targets for their personal development. It also provides them with the opportunity to practise a range of skills that we promote in the school related to independence and resilience. Moreover, relationships between pupils and staff are strengthened.
The boys have to make a personal financial contribution towards the cost of the trip. This can be done through engagement with the schools Contract Service Company which provides employment opportunities. In doing this we hope to make a connection between effort and reward.
And of course there is also the simple but no less important reason that it creates the chance for them to experience a fun holiday.
The boys each had tasks allocated to them prior to leaving which related to some aspect of the planning and organisation. This may have been preparing an equipment list for the group or searching for the best Euro exchange rate. They also had to take some responsibility for organising themselves, such as ensuring their passport was in order and applying for a European Health Card. Moreover, they contributed to the risk management process and were involved in discussions about what to do if problems occurred and what they needed to do to stay safe. Whenever possible, all of the boys were actively engaged in the preparations. Regarding the trip to the Bureau de Change, for example, one pupil could have completed this task, but they all went so that they could learn what to do and where to do it.
The flight to Geneva left Glasgow at 08.00. We made sure that we were in Glasgow in plenty of time to go through check-in, again taking the time to explain each process to the boys. This did not prevent at least one lad trying to get some Irn Bru through security! Landing in Geneva we then had a two-hour transfer through France to Aosta via the Mont Blanc Tunnel. Often the transfer is considered something to be endured, but the scenery made the journey both enjoyable and memorable. The boys were excited by the fact that they had visited four countries in one day. Passing through the Alps, seeing and then traveling under Mont Blanc all added to the excitement and anticipation of the week ahead.
On the approach to the airport over Lake Geneva
We arrived in Aosta in the early afternoon. Aosta is a town with a population of over forty thousand. The Interski offices and stores which are next to the cable car that leads to Pila are located in a fairly industrial and rather unattractive part of the town. This created a poor first impression. However, once we arrived at the Roma Hotel, any concerns we had were quickly overcome. The Hotel is situated next to the ancient Roman Wall which formed the town’s defences when it was first established as a community for retired legionnaires. Stepping through the wall transported you back in time. The town has beautiful architecture and a real sense of Italian style. The boys got to experience and enjoy the shops and cafes of the town and spent many Euros in the various ice cream parlours.
Dylan and Miss Nicol outside Aosta Town Hall
Ski school on the first day involved the boys being split into three groups. Joe H made excellent progress on the first morning and he was quickly moved up a group. This meant that the boys were skiing in two groups of four for the rest of the week, each with its own dedicated instructor. Prior to our arrival and on the first two days of the trip it snowed in Pila, so 50cm of fresh snow ensured that all of the runs were in top condition. This was lucky because by our last day, Saturday the 11th, the temperature in the resort was 20°C.
Day one and fresh snow
All of the boys exceeded expectations in relation to the progress they made in their skiing abilities. The environment was definitely an inspiration. When the snow cleared after the first two days, the skies were blue and we were able to fully appreciate the stunning views of Mont Blanc – or Monte Bianco as we were corrected by our Italian host – to the north-west, Monte Rosa to the north and the Matterhorn, or Monte Cervino to give it its Italian name, to the north-east.
The groups got to experience skiing on a range of runs, from wide open red runs to tree-lined blue runs. The group made up of Kieran, Joe R, Hugh and Aaron progressed so well that their instructor proudly announced that they had skied every run in the resort, including all the black runs. This was something that he had never achieved before.
The days passed quickly and the evenings were filled with a range of après-ski activities laid on by Interski. The highlight was Pizza Night, which involved a trip to the old town and a visit to a traditional pizzeria. The boys could eat as much as they wanted, which turned out to be a considerable amount judging by the pile of empty pizza plates and anxious expressions on the faces of the waiting staff.
A presentation ceremony was held on the final evening. The instructors awarded the boys with a certificate and badge related to the level they had achieved throughout the week.
The last day was spent skiing before an early finish and transfer to Geneva for the homeward flight. The boys were genuinely upset to be leaving and some expressed surprise at how sad they were to say goodbye to the ski instructors and the team who had helped to look after them throughout the week.
The team and instructors on the last day
I believe that this first foreign trip was a great success, and it is a very clear expression of the school’s commitment to developing the boys’ aspirations, independence and resilience.
A full evaluation of the experience will take place over the coming weeks, and we welcome support from all in this process. Following that we will consider where to next ….
Here are some of the boys’ comments:
“I had never been on a plane before so it was a new experience that I enjoyed thoroughly” (LB)
“The high point for me was doing a black run” (AH)
“We stayed in Hotel Roma and the staff that worked there were very friendly even though they all spoke mostly Italian but they all had a really welcoming attitude towards us all and made us feel really welcome” (DM)
“The highlight for me was the food. I’ve never tasted food so different from what I am used to. I had pasta, soups, real ice cream and lovely stone-baked pizzas. It was brilliant” (HB)
“The skiing was a lot of fun, but nothing could beat at the end of the day when I got to take the boots off” (LW)