When my daughter asked me if she could spend Schoolies at the Whitsunday’s on a Scripture Union trip last year, I replied with a resounding, “Yes!” My response was incredibly enthusiastic; I didn’t even stop to think twice about it, because when I heard the words ‘schoolies’ and ‘Scripture Union’ in the same sentence, my heart gave a leap. I knew she would be properly looked after and spend a week of celebrating the end of school in a safe environment while having the time of her life.
With a group of three other friends, my daughter saved, planned and prepared for the Whitsundays trip with great excitement and she wasn’t disappointed. “It was an incredible and unforgettable experience!” she said when we picked her up from the airport at the end of her trip. It was quite emotional as the students said goodbye to each other, their new friends and to the staff they had grown to love and respect. We could tell straight away that she was not going to forget this trip in a hurry.
Imagine sailing on the crystal clear waters of the Whitsundays, the wind wisping through your hair, the gentle sound of waves lapping against the edge of the boat, the smell of the salt sea air filling your lungs. This is the imagery she gave us when describing her first days spent on the 12 metre yacht.
Sailing to places like Whitehaven Bay, Hayman Island, Langford Island and Pearl Bay for snorkelling, bushwalking, swimming as well as an awesome BBQ beach party at Daydream Island, the school leavers washed away the stress of exams, study and graduation in the surroundings of one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Very quickly they got to know everyone on board. Chatting to Stuart White, a Scripture Union chaplain who has been on these trips as a line manager for six years, I discovered that these trips were just as rewarding for the staff as they are for the school leavers. “I love that these schoolies appreciate having a week of freedom after school,” he says, “all the stress of exams and graduation comes off them and they get to just relax and chill. I love that there’s not much of a program to it. It’s just about chilling. We’re there to guide activities and be there if anyone needs to chat. It’s great to get to know them and discover their plans for the future etc.”
Seeing as my daughter went with a group of friends, I wondered how other school leavers coped if they signed up by themselves.
“Being on a boat first up has a way of bringing people together,” Stuart says, “we encourage the school leavers to interact and talk to each other and after a couple of meals together, there’s no stopping them.”
And no stopping them there was. After three days of snorkelling, bushwalking and enjoying some of the best beaches in the world, these school leavers made their way to Daydream Island Resort to spend the rest of their week soaking up the sun in the spreading lagoon-style pools, playing putt-putt, tubing, paddle boarding, shopping, enjoying the outdoor cinema or just relaxing under the shade of a palm tree with a book.
I wondered if the kids felt pressured to be at activities when they were scheduled.
“The activities are there if they want them,” says Stuart, “they go at their own pace, we don’t organise the school leavers. We just keep an eye on things and make sure everyone is safe.”
What better way to mark a great occasion! I only wish I could have somehow fit in my daughter’s luggage and gone along for the ride but hey – that would so not be cool!
Scripture Union also offer Schoolies trips to Melbourne, Fraser Island, the Sunshine Coast and even Hawaii for those budding surfers out there. These trips are 100% drug and alcohol-free and are a safe alternative. All staff and volunteers are qualified, have blue cards and have been trained in the child-safety management systems.
To find out more visit their website at www.su-schoolies.com or like facebook.com/suqld
Originally published for the Goodlife Magazine Spring 2016