One of the under-appreciated aspects of UCFSD is the healthy relationship between our schools, students, and community organizations.
Let’s take the Boy Scouts as an example. My three boys all participate in scouting. Each joined Cub Scout Pack 231 at Pocopson, and my oldest has moved on to Unionville Troop 22 Boy Scouts. In Scouting, kids learn to live out the Scout promise and the Scout law. They find more discipline in their life, learn new skills, build self-confidence, have adventures, and make memories with their parents and friends. As Boy Scouts they learn much more about what it means to be a responsible citizen, and how to serve the community. And the learning occurs not in a classroom, but through rugged outdoor camping trips, group service projects, and individual study.
Scouts also brings kids together who might otherwise not interact with each other in school. 12th graders help 6th graders make it through a cave. Kids who love computers horse around and play touch football with varsity athletes and both have fun. What they have in common (scouting) gets them beyond their differences. And that goes for the parents, too. There is nothing that breaks down barriers quite like sleeping in a tent in the wilderness with another UCFSD parent!
One of the most rewarding parts of Scouting is watching kids learn and exercise leadership skills. In their normal day-to-day life, students are led by adults. At school, teachers are in charge and adults set the rules. Same thing at home. Same at church. Same in sports. But in Scouting, events are “scout led”. Adults are there only for safety, transportation, and occasional supervision.
I went on a camping trip last October with the Unionville troop, and the scout leader was a 7th grader. He worked in advance with the adult trip master to plan out all of the meals and activities. He organized the scouts into teams to do meal prep, cook and clean up. He made sure the troop was prepared for hikes with the right gear, food, and water. At night, he decided when it would be “lights out”. He made sure younger scouts and older scouts all had a great time, while also keeping the group together and watching out for safety. And he directed and led the adults as well. It was a big challenge for a seventh grader, and he did such a great job. Where else do our youth get these kind of leadership opportunities?
We adults, especially the parents of the younger Boy Scouts, are regularly amazed at how capable our youth are when we get out of their way, give them the reins, and allow them to achieve the outcome in their own way. And the kids have a remarkable ability to diagnose their own successes and failures, derive lessons from their mistakes, and grow from them for the future. And the listen and learn from their peers differently (better!) than when we as parent impart the same wisdom. The Boy Scout leadership development model really works.
What does all this have to do with our schools? First, we should acknowledge that schools can’t do everything for our kids and we shouldn’t want them to try. Community organizations, from youth sports associations, to scouting, to arts and dance programs, to chess clubs, to religious organizations, all enrich our kids intellectual, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual development. And we should thank these organizations (and the residents behind them) for all they do to add to our community fabric.
Second, we are fortunate that our schools are excellent partners, opening their doors to community groups in a non-discriminatory way. In accordance with UCFSD policy 707, our facilities are available to community groups. And for the those groups which are composed primarily of residents, space use is free. This is a huge benefit, because some events just can’t fit anywhere else. And it is a smart way to leverage our district’s fixed assets for additional community benefit. I am grateful for an administration that cheerfully does the work to manage use of the space across groups, keep the parking lots and sidewalks clear in the winter, clean up after events, and maintain the fields so they stay in top shape for community sports leagues.
Finally, we should feed and nurture our community organizations. Schools are made better when community organizations support our students. I think this is a virtuous cycle — our community is made better from great schools. Our schools are made better by an involved community. Students grow more with strong and active community organizations that complement the great education we provide in our schools. Our schools should therefore provide (non-financial) support to these organizations, to help them reach interested students.
The Boy Scouts aren’t for everyone. And that’s the great thing about community organizations — we have a diverse student body, and a myriad of opportunities in our community. Most of our students are engaged with one or two community organizations — maybe its Southern Chester County Soccer, or YMCA swim team, or KAU Little League, or KMC Dance. Maybe its a church youth group or community theater or an after-school art program. We are better for it, our kids are better for it, and our schools should continue to support and embrace the diverse interests of our community.