It was the sort of phone call every Cub Scout leader dreads. Mark Beard, the principal of Stone Lake Elementary School, was on the line, calling to notify Robert Rhymes, Pack 255’s committee chair, that someone at the pack’s last meeting had evidently broken a music stand in the choir room.
“We didn’t know about it until the principal was, like, ‘Hey, we want to give you an FYI: Something happened last night where one of the stands was broken. What can we do to take care of this situation?’” the Elk Grove, Calif., Scouter recalls.
Fortunately, a pack parent who worked at a music store was able to donate a replacement stand — and 10 more, to boot. But even more fortunately, Rhymes and other pack leaders had been building a relationship with the school ever since the pack was restarted three years before.
“You’ve just got to have open and honest conversations and get to know the school that you’re in,” he says. “The more they know who you are and the more personal you are with them, the more they’ll be willing to open up.”
Taking Action for Access
In getting to know school officials, Rhymes and other Pack 255 leaders were practicing something the Golden Empire Council has been preaching for six years. Frustrated at having zero access to schools for recruiting nights, the council executive board launched a concerted effort to reintroduce Scouting to area schools. Led by director of field services James Rhodes-Dreyer, the field services team met the challenge by committing to meet with all their principals two or three times a year to rebuild relationships.
“We go in late spring or early summer to start dialogue,” he says. “Then we revisit them when they reopen and say, ‘Do you remember when we talked back in May? Now we’re here to schedule something.’ ”
“I’ve found if you are a pleasant and polite pest and keep going back to the schools, ultimately they will give us what we’ve asked for,” says senior district executive Abigail McCullough, who helped start Pack 255.
When district executives visit schools, they share an important message — one that school officials unfamiliar with Scouting might not clearly understand. As Rhodes-Dreyer puts it, “Schools and Scouts have the same goal: We want to build productive members of our society.”
Executives also point out that Scouting doesn’t benefit just kids.
“We’re going to train their parents on leadership and service and public speaking, and those parents are going to be more likely to help out at school functions, too,” Rhodes-Dreyer says. “Not only are we teaching the students, we’re also teaching their parents.”
That’s certainly been the case at Stone Lake Elementary, according to McCullough.
“We have a fair number of parents who are involved in leadership with the Cub Scout pack and are also involved in the PTO,” she says.
Thanks to persistent outreach, the council’s school access has gone from zero to 60% in four years.
“Once two or three schools agreed to let us in, another 15 or 20 just dominoed,” Rhodes-Dreyer says. “Everyone wants to be like the cool school; nobody wants to miss out on an opportunity.”
Although McCullough stays in touch with the administration at Stone Lake Elementary, pack leaders don’t leave the relationship-building to the professionals. From the very start, they’ve worked hard to strengthen their connection with the school.
“When we first started, we didn’t know who the principal was,” Rhymes says. “We were provided a place, and we were appreciative, but I was, like, ‘I want to know who my neighbor is.’ ”
These days, the pack regularly offers its support to the school (as well as to another school where some dens meet).
“If there’s anything school-related that we can support, we will do that,” Rhymes says. “When they had a holiday fair, we were there to help serve refreshments, help cleanup. We even had things to sell.”
The pack is also quick to hand out invitations to events like pack meetings and Pinewood Derbies.
“We also give them certificates of appreciation each and every year, just thanking them for being part of our Scouting family,” he says.
And the pack has done one more thing that has helped to strengthen its relationship with the school: It has recruited teachers to serve as counselors for the Nova and Supernova awards — awards that further demonstrate how Scouting and school priorities align.
“Some of the teachers’ kids were Scouts, and they’re willing to help out; plus, they might have some knowledge we wouldn’t have,” Rhymes says. “It makes it easier for the kids to understand it, the kids are having more fun with it and the parents are not as stressed because someone else is helping out.”
A Helping Hand
Having someone else help out is a key to success in Scouting and education alike. When packs and schools work together, everyone benefits, especially the children both seek to serve.