By Cathleen Ann Steg
At Hargrave Military Academy, school and Scouting work together to offer students a richer, fuller educational experience.
"Team Integrity." That's the watchword for the Boy Scouts from Troop 68 and Venturers from Crew 68 on an October hike along the Appalachian Trail. This is one tough trek, a boulder-strewn climb through central Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.
Nobody complains or wants to quit. Buddies watch out for buddies. Boy leaders lead quietly and effectively, allowing the adults to enjoy the peaking fall foliage and majestic views of the George Washington and Jefferson national forests.
Their teamwork is partly due to the fact that the 13 boys are boarding students at the Hargrave Military Academy, the Chatham, Va., school that serves as the chartered organization for both Troop 68 and Crew 68.
'Educating the whole person'
"School and Scouting support each other beautifully," explained Lt. Col. John Borley, chief of staff at Hargrave and Scoutmaster of Troop 68. Hargrave's mission is centered on educating the whole person through carefully structured academic, spiritual, athletic, and military programs, and "You can almost plug the Scout Law into all facets of that mission," he noted.
Troop 68 has been a part of the school program since 1947, which isn't surprising because Hargrave offers an ideal setting for Scouting. Although parent volunteerism isn't high at a boarding school, the faculty and staff step forward to share time and skills with the Scouts and Venturers.
"Our military department staff are all retired senior noncommissioned officers, so there isn't anything in terms of outdoor skills that I can't find someone to help with instruction," said Scoutmaster Borley, who is retired from the Marine Corps. "The other faculty supplies the rest, whether helping on troop and crew projects and activities or counseling merit badges. There isn't any Eagle-required merit badge that we can't do right here."
Hargrave's athletic facilities allow for on-campus training in important areas such as swimming, lifesaving, and canoeing. And the results of Eagle Scout service projects abound throughout the beautiful 200-acre campus, from road improvements to nature trails.
Equally important, weekend trips like the October Appalachian Trail hike are easy to plan and conduct. The night before departing for a camp-out, boy leaders check backpacks, refuel stoves, issue food in the school gym, and load equipment onto the school bus. Next day, boys attend class in their Scout uniform instead of the Hargrave uniform that is usually required and head directly for the bus after school.
Reinforcing values and skills
The partnership with Scouting benefits the institution as well as its students. "Scouting serves as a great recruiting tool for the school," said Hargrave president Col. Wheeler L. Baker, Ph.D. "We'll get 15 students a year who might have gone elsewhere except for our Scouting program. We take our Scouting very seriously here."
The program also serves as a key tool to reinforce important values and skills. "Our best people are in Scouting and Venturing," said Baker, also a Marine Corps retiree, noting that the 75 Scouts and 50 Venturers represent 30 percent of the student body. "It's the adventurous aspect that teaches responsibility and team building."
On the troop's October hike, senior patrol leader John Skaar, a blond, wiry 17-year-old who combines intensity with a calm, upbeat demeanor, carried his 40-pound pack effortlessly up a trail that would challenge a mountain goat.
"When you go out to the woods, have a beautiful weekend, and then go back to school, your week is a lot better because of the experience," he said in describing one benefit from being a Scout at Hargrave. "When you finally get out to the woods, all burdens are off your shoulders."
"Most of us can't go home on the weekends,'' added Stan Holcomb, a junior from Washington, D.C., "so Scouting provides a chance to get out and do something different."
The Venturing program offers a special appeal for Hargrave's older students, such as the postgraduates (PG) who enroll for a year after high school to enhance their academic skills before going to college.
Even though they are too old to be Boy Scouts, students like 18-year-old Ben Woodard, a PG from Durham, N.C., and headed for the U.S. Naval Academy, could participate as Venturers. "I never got into camping this much until Hargrave," Ben said. "This is my first time backpacking in a long time; it's a great experience."
By the glow of a single backpacking lantern at the end of the first day on the trail, Maj. Bill Leftwich (USMC, retired), chairman of the Hargrave English department and an assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 68, described how Scouting helps reinforce the leadership skills taught at Hargrave. "Boys learn responsibility, practice responsibility, and then have some fun getting responsibility in Scouting," he said.
A quick look at the campsite showed that their "practice" was pretty close to perfect. Two separate sites nestled almost invisibly in the hardwood forest. Boys set up tents and the dining flies, prepared meals, and cleaned up. The only question they had for their adult leaders, who were enjoying their own one-pot cuisine, was: "Do you need any help?"
Independence and choices
Much of the effective teamwork in the troop is due to the very real accountability the boys experience during the school week.
During a Friday morning tour of classes, Bill Wiebking, Hargrave communications director, explained the system: "The boys know the rules and know they can't cross them. But there's a huge range within those rules for them to learn independence and make decisions, probably a lot more than in most public school environments. Even as seventh-graders, these students can go into town to a restaurant by themselves in their free time, [and] they learn to make choices."
Jim Tung, chairman of the chemistry department, agreed that the Hargrave system encourages success, and not just academically. "I taught at the university for a while, but what has kept me here is that you can really influence these guys." Small classes (with 425 students, the student/teacher ratio is 11:1) mean students get more attention and more lab time than in most public schools.
"Science is figuring things out, being given sometimes incomplete data," Tung continued, watching as some boys in his top-level chemistry class retried an experiment after misinterpreting the instructions. "This experimental approach goes beyond chemistry class, to Scouting and life itself."
Challenge, high expectations, and unflagging support are all defining elements, finally, of the classroom experience for Hargrave students.
These elements help make up the Scouting program, too. It's no wonder, then, that the Scouts and Venturers are ready to challenge themselves on the rocky pathways of the Appalachian Trail as well as in their classrooms.
Cathleen Ann Steg is a Scouting magazine contributing editor.
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