Category: Senior

Borneo adventurers share their story

Borneo 2018: Introduction 

Last summer we went to Borneo with World Challenge from 7 July to the 7 August. World Challenge is about getting students to take the lead on their trip, including everything from fundraising the money to organising our activities in Borneo and taking turns being leaders each day. For the whole trip we all took it in turns to be leader and accountants. We all dealt with the stress and enjoyment that came with the responsibility. Borneo is a large island in Southeast Asia inbetween the Philippines and Singapore. Our trip had 5 phases; acclimatisation, jungle trekking, community project, rest and relaxation and cultural and exploration phase. We all spent about 2 years preparing for this trip, and each of us had to raise £4,350, but it was all worth it.

Treks at Similajau

After more than 25 hours of travel, with stops in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and following our first orientation day in Miri one of Borneo’s most important cities, we arrived at Similajau on the 10th July – which was Jamie’s birthday – for our acclimatisation treks. On the first day we settled in our lodged, had a group meeting and explored the area. In the evening,…after Kathryn fought with Alex the caterer for around 30 mins we were finally fed – cold chips and cold curry…yum!

On day 2 a tropical storm started at 4:00am. During the night the electricity cut out due to the storm, which meant the clothes we washed the night before didn’t dry and our room was hot, very stuffy and smelt like mouldy cheese. The next day we then had to complete a trek in torrential rain which meant lots of leeches, especially for Jamie who collected a total of 15 leech bites and this resulted in Tiger singing a song about The Leachy Lady. Lucy and Issey had an impressive total of 60 mosquito bites each from the evening before and were not very happy at having itchy legs all day.

On day 3 it was Sophie’s birthday and we started walking to Turtle Beach 1 which was around 9km, the longest trek so far! We didn’t make it all the way there, but still enjoyed the beautiful sights of the beaches. After a day of exhausting trekking in the heat, we headed back to our lodges at Park HQ where we all had a well deserved snack and rest. Then a few of us went a wrote ‘Happy Birthday’ in the sand for Sophie on the beach and just before dinner we went and watched the sunset.

Project at Long Atip in Sarawak

We spent our second week in Borneo doing our community project in Long Atip. The main focus of the community project was to help build an extension to a church and we also helped in the local school as well as helping on Lajim’s farm. Whilst at Long Atip, we played football, duck duck goose, and hide and seek. Our hosts were called Lajim and Martha and we stayed in a Long House which took 21 minutes to get from one end to the other (and which you can see in one of the photos). At the end of our week we had a goodbye ceremony where we all had to perform their local dance and try to play the drums.

Treks at Gunung Mulu National Park

Following our community project, we had to take a 20 minute flight to Gunung Mulu National Park. Once we arrived we went straight to our homestay and then we began a small trek, which we all enjoyed it but we didn’t know how hard it was going to be. We then headed for dinner, and ate at an open restaurant with bats flying across our heads, resulting in Issey and Lucy screaming a lot.

On day 2 we completed a trek to an amazing waterfall and paddled in the stream. We enjoyed lunch there and then headed back to out homestay. And during the evening we all had a nice chat to get to know each other better.

The real challenge of the jungle trek began on Day 3. For the next two days we knew that it would be tough, it started off with a boat journey. We first stopped off at at a rural village where we bought many items from the market there. Afterwards we had a 30 min boat ride to another destination where a few of us went into the caves while the rest of us played in the water. We eventually started our main trek which was 9 km, it was difficult due to the temperature, humidity and our heavy backpacks. For many of us it was one of the biggest challenge of the trip. However, the wildlife that surrounded us was spectacular and distracted us from the gruelling walk. It took us around 5 hours to complete the trek and we were very relieved when we arrived at our destination.

On Day 4 we now knew what to expect and that we would have to have a positive mental attitude as the day promised to be tough. The 11km walk would difficult with our big rucksacks. Tiger had a traumatic experience of finding a leech on her. She was so terrified that our guide claimed that she had woken the jungle voodoo spirits and so he ran off and left us!! After we finished the walk with many of us complaining about blisters or pain we were able to relax on another boat ride. This time three hours long which included many of us falling asleep due to how tired we were.

Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in South-East Asia which is 4095m above sea level.  It was definitely one of the hardest things we have all done but one of the best things in our life! Mrs Sookdeo, and our inner biologists, noticed the changing vegetation as we got higher. We started our ascent on the 31st July and reached the summit on the 1st August. On the first day we started walking at 7:00 and it was fair to say that even after walking we started to feel the side-effects of the altitude but we were prepared with our group snacks which included many cookies. The further we climbed the mountain the more surreal it became. After around 6 hours of walking, and many steps, we arrived at our accommodation ⅔ up the mountain. Unfortunately, Sophie fell over and badly hurt her arm. Matters only got worse as the accommodation was freezing which meant lots of layers were worn we then prepared for an early night going to bed at 6:30.

On the 1st August, we woke up at 1:30am and we were walking by 3:00am. We walked for 2 kilometers in the pitch black fighting against altitude sickness. The further we ascended the mountain the steeper it got which meant we were walking on slate with only a bit of rope for support. After 3 hours of walking we finally could see the peak!! Even though it was hard work it was definitely worth it, we were literally above the clouds and were able to watch the sunrise. It was the most surreal view we had all ever seen and we made sure that we took plenty of photos. We then prepared ourselves to climb the peak and this was a struggle as we were so high up so altitude was hitting us hard!!! But we finally got to the very top of the mountain which was everyone’s biggest and proudest achievement of their life.

We then began to head down the mountain which was actually harder than ascending as it was tough on our knees. Unfortunately, Ester became very very sick and had to be carried down in a stretcher, while Sophie kept fighting the pain from her arm. And despite walking in the pouring rain, we were all strong and made it down. We finally reached the bottom where waiting for us was a buffet with many of us drinking lots of hot chocolate. Climbing the mountain was hard for everyone and it was important that we had a positive mental attitude many, of us faced our fears including Ms Gonzalez Lens conquering her fear of heights. It was completely worth it as we are now able to say that we have climbed the highest mountain in Southeast Asia and for many of it was the highlight of the trip.

Rest and Relaxation

Our final phase was R&R. For this we went island hopping around islands off the coast of Borneo, visited the Sabah State Gallery – which had a women’s art exhibition and other local art. Other highlights of our Rest and Relaxation Phase included Ziplining and Snorkelling around the nearby islands of Kota Kinabalu where we got caught in a tropical typhoon! It was awesome but scary.

We also visited a Handicraft market, Sabah State Mosque, food markets, the Orangutan Rehabilitation centre and Sunbears at Sepilok. And, in addition, Sophie and Amaia spent some of their rest and relaxation visiting the hospitals and were very proud about their x-rays.

What we got from the trip

We all learnt different things from the trip this included learning how to manage people as everyday one of us was leader which included booking accommodation or taxis or finding food for everyone to eat.

For the physical side of things, it was important that we worked as a team and had a positive mental attitude as the expedition was both physically and mentally demanding. Some also learned that you shouldn’t shower in your clothes when they get smelly.I think it’s safe to say that this is the best trip of our lives where many great friendships have been made.

Video to follow!


Parliament Week 2018

The theme for this week was Parliament Week. In the week of Prime Minister Theresa May unveiling the proposed deal for Brexit, it was very timely indeed! It was an opportunity for our students to engage with the UK parliament and how they can actively involve themselves in promoting and supporting the Fundamental British Value of the Rule of Law.

Friday’s assembly heard Mr Guest talk about the history of the UK parliament, and the remaining four laws set up in the Magna Carta, which set out the powers of the monarchy. He also spoke about making our votes count and being part of making a difference for our country.

In addition to the Senior School Assembly on Friday, throughout the week tutors discussed with their tutees aspects of the Rule of Law and the British Parliament itself and the impact Parliament has on our daily lives. Year 7-9 discussed Vote 100 as 2018 marks 100 years since Parliament passed a law which allowed some women, and all men, to vote for the first time: the 1918 Representation of the People Act. As part of Vote 100, women shared their personal stories of how laws passed by Parliament have changed their lives for the better. Pupils watched three films from #YourStoryOurHistory, focusing on laws that have contributed to women’s rights and continued to empower them. Pupils created a list of reasons why it is important to vote, what voting allows us to do and why it is a privilege, as well as how Suffragettes won women the vote. Throughout the year we are celebrating this important milestone in the UK’s democratic history.

Following on from Black History Month, Year 10 and 11 discussed diversity and parliament, exploring the changing nature of representation in the UK. Pupils were shown clips to find out more about Parliamentarians’ experience of changing diversity and to consider what diversity means to them. They discussed the reasons why a greater diversity is important for Parliament, what can be done to encourage greater diversity in politics, how they could encourage diversity and heard about role models from Members of Parliament, including both personal and famous people.

For any further information – or if this is an area that interests you – please visit

Socrates Programme 2018-19 launched in style

The first Socrates Lecturer of the 2018 programme was Dr Jess Wade, who came to our school to discuss her fascinating career and research. We were also very fortunate to hear her online campaign for women’s equality in science, which will benefit many schools, institutions and research facilities, by popularising women in STEM, through sites such as Twitter and Wikipedia.

Dr Wade is a research scientist for Imperial College, and lectures frequently on her main subject: plastic electronics and OLEDs. The main field she is researching now is bendable screens, such as phones you can cut or fold, or televisions so thin and flexible you could curl them up and transport them in rolls. This topic is extremely relevant, as many companies are quickly making seemingly futuristic upgrades to technology, flexible screens being one of them.

Within bendable technology, Dr Wade incorporates both the practical and the aesthetic side of the subject, by researching  pigments, light, and conductivity, to try and create such an incredible device. During this research, she explores natural pigmentation, using colourful creatures such as butterflies and peacocks, and studies the intricate ways of using light to display their radiant feathers and wings. On the more practical side, she is working on creating a charged silicon through altering the particle structure with electrons, to create one of the first (and the most effective) electric plastic.

Apart from her work, Dr Wade has used the internet to campaign for female equality in STEM. Her inspiration was the lack of women in her laboratory, and many key scientific breakthroughs made by women having been forgotten in history. The first thing she wanted to do, was make sure these women were recognised by the web, so she started a process of making biographies on Wikipedia for many female scientists who never had the amount of recognition they deserve. This caused a huge new rise in followers across many social media platforms, as many people agreed with this campaign. With the help of her Twitter followers, she managed to raise enough money to fund a petition that would allow for every school in Britain to have the book “Inferior” by Angela Saini, an inspirational book which challenges preconceptions about gender differences. This was extremely successful, and Dr Wade has won many awards for her contribution to science, to Wikipedia and to the women’s equality campaign.

Dr Wade is an excellent scientist, an inspirational person, and a gifted speaker, making her lecture an incredible show of groundbreaking technology and inspiring discoveries, that we all enjoyed. I hope we get the chance to hear about her work again.

– Ella McGovern, year 8

Inspiring Q&A session with ‘Slay in your lane’ authors

Wednesday 17 October saw a fascinating lunchtime question and answer session with Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, authors of ‘Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible‘, led by a panel of our sixth form students. It brought together pupils from across the school, of many different backgrounds, to discuss not only the process of producing the book but also the topic of prejudice and discrimination faced by black women, as told by the two south London born authors and the thirty nine trailblazing women interviewed for the book.

The book contains a rich mix of voices and is the first of its kind, which added a layer of pressure to ensure that it was not merely stereotypical anecdotes but filled with statistics and historical facts to validate the experiences of black women. They are passionate in their conviction that the book is for everyone, even though it is written about, and by, black women – it is key for other members of society to read about their experiences in an attempt to understand more than simply their own lived experience, especially decision-makers in positions of power.

Yomi and Elizabeth state that their book is designed to educate and empower rather than to depress with the sometimes startling statistics listed. They were adamant that it should start the conversation, rather than be a full stop, and allow other BAME voices to be able to share their experiences – especially as these are often different, sometimes opposite, to their own. They explained how hard it was to produce the book, whilst working full time, versus the high of being interviewed on television and in magazines once the book was finally published. They spoke about the challenges of initiating conversations with their list of inspirational women and how they took every opportunity to approach the women with whom they wanted to collaborate – from direct messaging on instagram to finding Diane Abbott MP in Parliament and June Sarpong at Afro Hair & Beauty Live. It was important to them to be authentic and tell their own story and they feel very fortunate that they were able to select a publisher who allowed this, without compromising their vision, and let them be hands-on even down to the cover and internal photoshoot.

The discussions over representations of black women in the media and how to respond to racism or microaggressions could have continued all afternoon but the session had to draw to a close. The authors signed dozens of books and we are sure that every girl will enjoy reading this powerful book of rare insights and destigmatisation.

Slay In Your Lane is available from all good bookstores.


Author Susin Nielsen ends UK tour at Sydenham High

On Tuesday 16 October year 6-9, and some visiting pupils from Sydenham School, were lucky enough to hear from author Susin Nielsen about her latest book, No Fixed Address, and the journey from her teenage years, being encouraged by her seventh grade teacher, to becoming a published author.

Susin began by sharing a photo of younger herself and reading an extract from her teenage diary where she stated that if she was to be a famous author she ought to start writing a diary for when she reached stardom! At this time she moved from Chatham to London, Ontario, during the summer holidays and, with her mother at work all day as a nurse, she found herself with a great deal of free time to develop her writing. She wrote poetry and tried submitting it to various magazines but was rejected for being “too depressing” but, still persevering on the path to writing, she started temp jobs as a runner on tv shows, and started writing some speculative scripts. One of which was eventually successful and her writing then formed episodes of Degrassi Junior High – she even took on a bit-part character on screen, who was sadly later killed off! She knew that she would one day write Young Adult literature and talked us through each of her books.

There were many questions from the audience about how Susin came up with the themes for her books (often in the half-awake, half-asleep 5am periods but sometimes from other books or news stories), who her favourite authors are (Lisa Williamson, Zadie Smith, Marcus Zusak, Emily Bronte to name a few) and the long process for writing novels. It was interesting to hear that she is proud of all her books but she has a soft spot for Word Nerd as it was the first that she finished and published and that she sometimes puts characters from other novels into stories as secondary characters. She even has an idea of exactly where all her characters live – we wonder if the owners can sense that they share their house with a fictional character?!

As a teenager she read Judy Blume and was delighted to discover that she wasn’t the only one feeling how she felt and being able to explore experiences – both her own and of others, through books. The idea of being able to do this for other young people made her want to pursue her writing career. She also emphasised the importance of learning more from your mistakes than your successes. It was an excellent start to the morning and we hope to see lots of inspired young writers having a go at their own literary masterpieces. Susin even made time to come and see our year 7 “bookshelf” lockers – and found one of her titles!

To find out more about Susin Nielsen please visit her website.


Black History Month at Sydenham High

To start the final week of our Black History Month celebrations, Mr Catton gave an inspirational assembly centred on Peter Norman, Tommie Smith and John Carlos and the 1968 salute at the medal giving ceremony of the Olympics which, rather than being a black power salute – as commonly quoted, was a global protest for human rights.

Fifty years ago on 16 October in Mexico City, Tommie Smith won the 200m final in a world-record time of 19.83 seconds. Norman came second in 20.06 seconds (his time means that he still holds the Oceanian 200 metres record), followed by Carlos. After the race, the three athletes went to the medal podium for their medals to be presented. On the podium, during the playing of the American national anthem, Smith and Carlos famously joined in a salute while Norman wore a badge in support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). After the final, Carlos and Smith had told Norman what they were planning to do during the ceremony. They asked Norman if he believed in human rights. He said he did. They knew that what they were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat. Peter Norman said, ‘I’ll stand with you’. It was Norman who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute, after Carlos left his pair in the Olympic Village. This is the reason for Smith raising his right fist, while Carlos raised his left.

Despite Norman facing backlash in Australia for his part in the protest, not being selected for the following 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich despite qualifying, and not being invited back in 2000 as a former medal holder, he did not regret his actions as he stood up for what he believed in.

In August 2012, the Australian Parliament gave a posthumous apology and Order of Merit to Norman. A statue is being built in Melbourne to honour him. In a 2012 interview, Carlos said: “There’s no-one in the nation of Australia that should be honoured, recognised, appreciated more than Peter Norman for his humanitarian concerns, his character, his strength and his willingness to be a sacrificial lamb for justice”.

It was a wonderful start to the day, reminding us all to stand up for our beliefs and stand by those who face prejudice and injustice.

International Day of the Girl 2018

Even though we treat every day as a day for all of our girls, International Day of the Girl is special. We marked the event across all subjects, as part of our Sense of Self programme, and in accordance with this year’s theme: ‘With Her: A Skilled GirlForce’ 

The day began with a whole school assembly at Senior School, where Mr Guest spoke about how astonishing the power of girls really is – that it can save lives and transform futures, releasing the real potential of girls and their communities. He expressed that all of society – women, men, boys, girls, parents, families, schools, laws, policy makers – have a role to play in challenging and changing traditional and harmful gender stereotypes in order to end the poverty and lack of opportunity faced by girls.

Heads of Department designed some amazing and inspiring lessons based around the theme to mark such a significant day, including:


Year 8 thought about why it is often women in developing countries that are exploited.

Year 9 discussed the impacts of climate change and why in developing countries the least mobile (women and children) are often the most heavily impacted.

Year 11 reviewed the importance of girls’ education in stimulating economic growth (link to Rostow model) and compared the number of women in further education and employment in Mumbai and London.


Year 7 discussed gender stereotypes through the medium of advertising as well as thinking about stereotypes across the world of work. They listed the changes that have been implemented this century to bring more equality but decided there was still some way to go!

Year 11 debated the justification for protesting and the use of violence in order to enact change. This was then linked to the question of how to enact change for girls in the workplace and education in the future.


During all languages lessons students and staff started the lesson with a discussion on opportunities with  Languages in the world of work.


All year groups looked at women writers, linked to the visiting authors we have met through this term and encouraged the girls to continue their journey as writers through entry to the GDST Creative Writing Competition.


Students built on the Ava Lovelace Day theme and looked at the diverse careers and impacts that women have had – and can further have – in STEM subjects. This happened via discussion in lessons, with examples of women who’ve done incredible things, and through asking students to ‘dream big’ about where they might take their career ideas involving maths.

The Student Council came together in the Lecture Theatre – with girls from Prep through to Senior, to devise a strategy on how to help one another speak up and speak out about the things that matter to them.

It was a great way to celebrate the girl – and a great way to celebrate how we at Sydenham educate the girl. To read more about the theme click here.

Pupils celebrate Ada Lovelace Day 2018

Today year 7 pupils celebrated women in STEM for Ada Lovelace Day 2018. Lovelace is the founder of computing theory – a quite remarkable woman whose mathematical theories laid the basis for all modern computers.

In Maths the girls discussed the following women’s contributions and compared how the achievements might have been lauded had they been achieved by men at the time:

  • Katherine Johnson: led the NASA computing team that worked out the trajectory calculations for the first NASA space flights (as show in the film Hidden Figures)
  • Hedy Lamarr: a Hollywood actress and inventor who holds the patent for “frequency-hopping spread spectrum for use in torpedo guidance systems.” We know that now as… WiFi
  • Florence Nightingale: a superb nurse… but an even better statistician. Her statistical presentations to the British military completely changed the ways that injured soldiers were cared for, and radically changed survival rates. She was elected as the first female Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society.

The group discovered that ‘computers’ used to refer to a pool of female mathematicians who would test complex equations for viability, long before a machine was invented to do so. We also found out that Darcey in year 7 is the great, great, great, great niece of Florence Nightingale! An afternoon of discoveries for all.

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