At-risk teens put to the test on trek

They journeyed more than 120 kilometres over eight days, but the lessons they’ll take away from the experience will last a lifetime.

Three teenagers from the Latrobe Valley Flexible Learning Option campus and six from Lowanna College took part in the Operation Flinders program, which tested the perceptions the at-risk teenagers had of themselves and what they are capable of doing.

During the trip across the Flinders Ranges, the students were responsible for collecting their own firewood, making their own camp and preparing their own food.

It wasn’t without its challenges – with heavy rain meaning replacement equipment needed to be transported to some students, heavy winds blowing the camp away and cold overnight temperatures making sleeping a chore.

Campus student Daniel Rhodes, 16, said he found it difficult to sleep without a pillow and would have liked an aeroplane pillow.

“It was challenging and it wasn’t very comfortable at night,” Daniel said.

Danielle Withers, 15, said she enjoyed cooking and learnt how to make her sleeping area more comfortable, while participant Trent Rosewall, 14, said the experience taught him “how to respect other people’s cultures”.

They were joined on the trip by Morwell police First Constable Corey Thomson, who took part in a bid to improve the students’ perceptions of police.

First Const Thomson said he applied to participate when his superiors sought expressions of interest from Morwell police.

“I enjoy dealing with and helping youth out and staying on the right track,” he said.

“When the opportunity came up to put that into real practice… I jumped at it.”

During the program, students with exceptional leadership capabilities are identified to be trained as peer group mentors.

Those students then receive training in South Australia to participate in future Operation Flinders camps as student mentors.

The program, which began in South Australia in the 1990s, has been so successful it has been implemented in various states across Australia.

It was organised by power producer Engie, which organised for Victoria Police to become involved and contributed funds along with Latrobe Valley Rotary clubs.

Engie manager of corporate social responsibility Simon Klapish said the company was pleased with the outcome of the program.

“It has been peer-assessed internationally as the best in the world,” Mr Klapish said.

“They do it in US, Canada, New Zealand – so we’re really happy with the way it’s gone.

“I think it’s gone better than what we expected really.”