Scouting still an enriching experience for today’s youth

  • Ian Burt, 12, crosses a traverse rope during the Western Massachusetts Boy Scouts of America Spring Camporee at the Franklin County Fairground in Greenfield, on May 19. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

It’s no surprise that even in today’s frenetic and sometimes cynical world, “Eagle Scout” is the gold standard of youthful achievement.

For more than a century, Boy Scouts of America has been serving society by providing tweens and teens with experiences and knowledge intended to make them strong adults in every sense.

And that mission seems to continue to this day. We see it in the twice-a-year western Massachusetts camporees that attract hundreds of Scouts from 16 troops from across western Massachusetts. These gatherings, sometimes held at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, present the Scouts, from fifth grade through high school, with different challenges, demonstrations and events — all of which expand their knowledge and understanding of the people and world around them — always while having fun, often while camping outdoors, the organization’s trademark experience. There are 2.4 million youngsters participating around the country today.

According to Boy Scouts District Executive Lesley Birk, these regional camporees feature classic Scouting demonstrations and challenges — like fire-building and knot tying — but also things many of the Scouts have never done before — which seems to be the key. In a time when so much of what young people experience is virtual, Scouting should be valued for encouraging them to live and learn in the actual world with hands-on activities and face-to-face social interactions.

Camporees feature demonstrations from blacksmiths, firefighters and scuba divers, which Birk describes as a well-rounded exercise in knowledge-building for the Scouts.

It’s also about team-building and mastering challenges, Birk said, as Scouts take on physical challenges like climbing a rope to ring a bell, or making a safe fire pit where they have to make a fire without matches.

Later, at a campfire, teams of Scouts might perform a song or skit, a good exercise in public speaking and performance, Birk said.

Some lessons are classic camping skills instruction, but they nonetheless imbue deeper learning. Learning how to properly cut wood chips from a log to make fuel for a fire will help on the next camping trip, but more importantly, it teaches the boys how to find and use resources at hand. Not a bad lesson as they head into a world of finite resources.

As these youngsters learn and do things they didn’t know they could do, they get a sense of accomplishment from activities they would likely never get on their own. They can learn about fisheries and wildlife, but also about topics like religion and spirituality.

At a camporee at the fairgrounds not long ago, one Scout summed up his experience in a way that perhaps explains the continuing value of the Scouting program: “It’s really fun, and you learn a lot while having fun.”

Scouts are taught that when they go camping, they should always leave a campsite looking better than when they arrived. And true to that code, they police the fairgrounds properly before leaving.

And it’s one last life lesson that more of us should learn if we haven’t, so we can extrapolate that concept into the wider world we inhabit together, and leave it a better place than the one we entered.