To implement a progressive program for Year 9 students that enables them to develop greater responsibility, independence and leadership by providing challenges which increase their level of flexibility, tolerance and co-operation, enhancing self-understanding and developing a greater appreciation for, and understanding of, the outdoor environment created for them to inhabit and preserve, and the needs of the wider community.
Teachers quickly realize that, at around 15 years of age, young people undergo a change in their attitude and behaviour. Research suggests that the observations and educational philosophy of Kurt Hahn well describes the situation these students find themselves in.
Hahn notes, Six Declines:
Decline of fitness
Decline of initiative and enterprise
Decline of memory and imagination
Decline of skill and care
Decline of self-discipline
Decline of compassion
The antidotes for these declines, in Hahn’s view are:
Many schools simply ignore this time and continue with the same standard academic approach. The best schools, however, have set about introducing programs to cater for this time in a way that enables the young people to reflect on themselves, their life and the world in which they live and thereby be better prepared for the next few years of schooling and on into life as competent citizens of Australia and the world.
Native American philosophy proposes that the central purpose of life was the education and empowerment of children. Children were taught to love, learn, explore, and to give. They saw this through the idea that “belonging (significance), mastery (competence), independence (power), and generosity (virtue) are the core needs of all children. These core needs transcend culture and are the birthright of all children. Helping children have these needs met can become the shared vision that drives the work of caring adults.” Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future, Brendtro and colleagues (1990) 
“Children in every culture need to belong. Depriving a child of care is universally evil. Children by their nature are created to strive for mastery; thus, schools that sabotage this motivation for competence are maltreating children. Children from any background have the need for self-determination; to block this development of independence is to commit an injustice. Finally, from the dawn of cooperative civilization, children have sought to give back to others the concern they have been shown by others. If educators fail to provide children with opportunities for caring and generosity, they extinguish their students’ human spirit.” Ibid
The principles of Hahn’s experiential model serve as the basis of the Gilson College program:
Give the children opportunity for self-discovery
Make the children meet with triumph and defeat
Give the children opportunity for self-effacement in the common cause
Provide periods of silence
Train the imagination
Make games important but not predominant
Free the children of the from the enervating sense of privilege
The following program is one way to ensure this can happen at Gilson College.
Learning 4 Life in brief
Learning 4 Life is an experiential education program that includes outdoor activities and experiences as well as completing modified expectations of the traditional curriculum. It is made up of three components as follows:
- Bushwalking – dealing with the individual and self-concept
- Urban studies – familiarising students with city life through group activities
- Service – taking students beyond themselves into the community through service
These components develop many skills such as confidence, persistence, flexibility, resilience, organisation, and getting along.
The building of relationships is central to the Learning4Life program and it is this that is so vital in our spiritual developmental connection with God. Our program is based on the three elements of Special Character
- Belonging (caring for the individual),
- Believing (in self, group, and God) and
- Being (a contributing member of community)
It has become clear that this program has positive outcomes and a positive impact on most students. Many teachers and parents have indicated positive developmental changes in their students as a direct result of the program. This includes self-confidence, independence, maturity, resilience, English expression, focus on class work, attitudes and values.
 Reclaiming Our Youth, Steven L. Van Bockern, Larry K. Brendtro, and Martin Brokenleg