‘As I walked into the big gates…’: Petchey newcomers deliver moving speeches after bonding trip to Epping Forest

Getting to grips: pupils prepare to scale the climbing wall. Photograph: Petchey Academy

Year 7 pupils bravely took to the stage at Petchey Academy’s annual Acorn Assembly last month to talk about moving on to secondary school, and their recent get-to-know-you trip to Epping Forest.

Every year since the academy was founded in 2006, parents and staff have gathered to see either Sir Jack Petchey or his grandson present wooden acorns to every Year 7 to celebrate their first few weeks at the school.

A spokesperson explained the hand-carved acorns “symbolise the potential inside of all of our young students to grow to their full, magnificent potential”.

The audience also listened to speeches from some of the pupils, who only recently returned from an adventurous three days at Gilwell Park in Epping Forest, where Year 7s go at the start of every year to get to know each other and their teachers.

They enjoyed go-karting, climbing, sledging and archery, and even camped out in tents.

Slice of the outdoors: students knock up a pizza on their camping trip. Photograph: Petchey Academy

Philanthropist Sir Jack Petchey, 93, who founded the academy, “highly values the experience of outdoor education and the development of new skills which may not be acquired in the traditional classroom setting”, according to the school’s spokesperson.

In heart-warming speeches, three 11-year-old newcomers talked about how the field trip helped them adjust to life at secondary school.

Joel said: “When I first came into the school, all I could remember was my old and beloved friends and my old, beloved school, where I had fun times playing and learning.

“But as I walked into the big gates of Petchey Academy I knew I had a whole better future ahead of me.”

He described the Gilwell Park trip as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”, adding: “We all had to share rooms with either two people, or up to eight, but it didn’t matter because we all enjoyed it and participated in fun activities and worked as a group.”

Star told the audience that when she first arrived at the school in her “new, smarter uniform”, she knew immediately that she had come to the right place.

She said: “I was able to tell that, just like an acorn, I would persevere and be long-lasting.”

Already exhibiting a solid understanding of an extended metaphor, she continued: “I was also able to tell that, with the help of my teachers, I will be planted into good soil and be fed plenty of knowledge.”

She concluded: “The Gilwell Park trip felt like a very rare experience. It allowed me to conquer fears that I had and cause a stronger bond with my peers and teachers.

“This brings me back to the acorn – the reason we are here, together, as a community, is to be tough and strong, like acorns, and show perseverance.”

Hitting new heights: three pupils traverse a rope course. Photograph: Petchey Academy

Aliza echoed the feelings of her classmates, saying: “Only me and five other friends were going to attend Petchey and I guess that wasn’t bad.

“It felt sad leaving primary school, but I knew that this would be a good start of something new.”

She continued: “Last week, Year 7 had a grand opportunity to go to Gilwell Park. The trip was about trying new things, making new friends, working together as a group and, obviously, having fun!”

She said it was “honestly one of the best trips I’ve ever been on”, adding: “I’ve seen a lot of new friendships and it makes me happy to see that at Petchey you have that opportunity to get to know people.

“I can already see that some of these new friendships might last a lifetime.”

The Petchey spokesperson added: “The students are all in Year 7 and they were asked to do a write-up about their first few weeks at school.

“They presented their speeches in front of the entire year group plus parents, governors and Student Leadership at our annual Acorn Assembly.”

On the Gilwell Park trip, they added: “Funded by the Jack Petchey Foundation, the trip is a great opportunity for students to develop friendships, get to know staff and challenge themselves in a safe and friendly environment.”

The Jack Petchey Foundation was set up in 1999 and funds a number of programmes that support 11 to 25-year-olds across London and Essex.

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