¡Muy Bien, Milwaukee!
By Layne Cameron
Scouting's emphasis on leadership and character development inspires a middle school in an urban Hispanic neighborhood to add a Boy Scout troop to an already rigorous, challenging program.
- A Full Day
- Providing a Quality, Well-Rounded Education
- Nativity Jesuit and ScoutingPartners in Success
At their campsite in Wisconsin's Devil's Lake State Park, crisp fall temperatures greeted the Boy Scouts of Troop 200 as they climbed out of tents dampened by the previous night's rain. Through the fog rolling across the black-glass lake, the young campers glimpsed at misty apparitions on the opposite shore. Though actually fallen rock formations and barren trees, the ghostlike shapes brought to mind the Winnebago Indian legend that the lake and woods were once inhabited by evil spirits.
But on this October weekend, any evil spirits would have been hard-pressed to find a spot to linger. That's because, along with Troop 200, the 36th annual Devil's Lake Anniversary Hike had attracted more than 2,500 Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Venturing crew members, and adult leaders.
The Scouts in Troop 200, which is chartered to Milwaukee's Nativity Jesuit Middle School, are Hispanic youth from the city's south side. The troop has attended the Devil's Lake outing every year since the troop's inception in 1994, and the Scouts were anxious to begin this latest version.
At the trailhead, Humberto Sanchez and Greg Parisot, the current and past senior patrol leaders, respectively, readied the troop while answering rapid-fire questions in Spanish from younger Scouts. Then they moved out, accompanied up the trail by Scoutmaster John Emling and assistant Scoutmaster Carl Malischke. The two Scouters observed that the leadership demonstrated by older Scouts like Humberto and Greg was a good example of why Nativity Jesuit had adopted Scouting as a part of its curriculum.
Partnership of programs
Larry Siewert, the school's founding principal, wants to create an educational environment that fosters community leaders instead of gang leaders. Although the Scouting program historically has had limited success in Milwaukee's Hispanic community, Siewert recognizes the value of the program.
"We want our kids to go to good high schools and on to [higher education] and then return as community leaders," says Siewert. "Scouting's emphasis on developing leadership, discipline, and responsibility dovetails nicely into our program."
The school contacted the BSA Milwaukee County Council for help in starting a unit. The council, through its Scoutreach program's Hispanic Initiative, was happy to oblige. (This innovative program was created to serve children at risk residing in the city's underserved south-side community.)
Recruiting and retaining qualified urban Scout adult leaders can prove challenging. "Many troops develop their own leadership," says Siewert. "But here Scouting was a brand-new venture."
To jump-start the troop, the council recruited veteran Scouter John Emling, who had earned his Eagle Scout Award in the Milwaukee area and had served as a camp director at the council's Indian Mound Scout Reservation.
Welcoming a challenge
The 26-year-old Scoutmaster welcomed the challenge of helping to bring Scouting to Milwaukee's urban Hispanic community. His first task, however, even before Nativity Jesuit could officially adopt the program, was to sell it to the boys.
During the school's five-week summer program at Thunderhead Camp in Mercer, Wis., Emling spent a week introducing the boys to Scouting. At week's end, the boys were asked if they wanted to become Boy Scouts. It was also during this period that Emling was asked if he still wanted to continue as Scoutmaster.
The response from everyone was ¡Si! And during the camp's final dinner, the formation of Troop 200 was officially announced.
The school includes Scouting as a regular part of the curriculum for all sixth graders and as an optional program for seventh and eighth graders. Scouting activities are part of the school's all-day, year-round schedule.
Classes begin at 8 a.m. and run until 3:30 p.m., followed by an afternoon activity such as football or swimming. The boys then spend two hours at home, a break that some use to squeeze in soccer practice for their weekend league games.
Others use the time to relax. "I have to get my TV time in at six o'clock," jokes Scout Victor Mares.
In the evening, the boys return to school for a two-hour study hall that lasts until 9 p.m.
Even with the school's heavy demands on their time, most boys stay with Scouting when it becomes an optional activity. In fact, more than 90 percent of the student body takes part.
A boy-run troop
"Part of the high retention is credited to John Emling, who has done a great job developing their leadership skills," says Siewert. "He is intent upon enabling them to run the troop themselves, and the boys are picking up on that."
Greg Parisot is an example of how Scouting helps develop leadership skills. During Greg's tenure as senior patrol leader in the winter of 1997, Emling had to take a temporary leave of absence from his Scoutmaster duties.
Without the Scoutmaster's regular presence, the troop program began to lose momentum. Some of the boys who were not required to be in the troop left the program, and the future of Troop 200 began to look questionable.
A Klondike derby loomed on the troop calendar. Using the team-oriented event as a way to focus the remaining boys' efforts, Greg assumed the reins of troop leadership. And no one was more shocked than he was when the troop not only flourished but was able to finish in second place at the Klondike derby.
After Scoutmaster Emling returned, the role of junior leadership continued to grow in importance, and it was the senior patrol leader who ran the meetings. Since then, the troop has grown to 58 boys. Parisot has traveled the Scouting spectrum from enrolling as a quiet, withdrawn Tenderfoot to now standing poised to earn his Eagle.
"Becoming an Eagle Scout is one of my goals," says Parisot, who plans to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee. "I know what Scouting has done for me, and I want to achieve its highest rank."
Standing atop one of the highest points in Devil's Lake State Park, a rocky outcrop that overlooks the lake, John Emling says he is looking forward to the day when Troop 200 has its first Eagle Scout.
"The day I received my own Eagle Scout Award was sweet," he says, "but awarding one as a Scoutmaster would be even sweeter."
And with the enthusiasm and leadership displayed by the members of Troop 200, that sweet occasion will no doubt be repeated many times in the years to come.
Freelance writer Layne Cameron lives in Indianapolis, Ind. His article "The Motor City's Magnum Opus," in the September 1999 issue of Scouting, described another urban success story, Troop 194 in Detroit.
A Full Day
A student's schedule at Nativity Jesuit would leave most adults exhausted by day's end. Yet the middle schoolers seem to grasp the importance of earning a good education.
"Some days I'm tired, and study hall wears me out," admits Gabriel Rivera. "But I know I'm doing so much more than other boys [elsewhere], and I'll have the education of an 11th grader when I leave here."
Monday through Friday:
8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.Classes.
3:30 to 5 p.m.After-school activity such as soccer, swimming, or football.
5 to 7 p.m.Home for dinner (or soccer league practice).
7 to 9 p.m. (Monday through Thursday)Study hall.
Summer camp schedule
The school also applies its "no idle time" philosophy to its five-week summer program held at Thunderhead Camp, Mercer, Wis.:
9 to 11 a.m.Math and reading.
11 a.m. to noon: Study period, computers, or swimming.
Noon to 1 p.m.Lunch.
1 to 2 p.m.Quiet time to be used for reading, writing letters to home, or resting.
2 to 5:30 p.m.Soccer, swimming, water-skiing, football, or basketball.
5:30 to 7 p.m.Rest break and dinner.
7 to 9 p.m.Fishing, horseshoes, or games like Capture the Flag.
9 p.m.Cabin meeting, discussions, or ghost stories.
10:30 p.m.Lights out.
Providing a Quality, Well-Rounded Education
Principal Larry Siewert and school president Father Bill Johnson founded Milwaukee's Nativity Jesuit Middle School in 1992. They modeled the private, independent Catholic school after a similar school in New York City on Manhattan's Lower East Side. They visited the New York school and began mapping their own high-intensity curriculum; in June 1993 the Milwaukee school received its first class of 15 sixth graders.
Nativity Jesuit Middle School is located in an education building of St. Patrick's Parish in the heart of Milwaukee's Hispanic community. The school now has students in grades six through eight.
Enrollment is limited to boys, considered by community leaders to be more at risk for involvement in drugs, crime, and gangs. And parents support the school's rigorous, demanding schedule, knowing their children are both safe and receiving a quality, well-rounded education.
Nativity Jesuit recruits students from neighboring elementary schools. Following an annual open house, school officials visit and interview prospective students in their homes.
Yearly tuition is $950, which includes a summer camp session. "Fifty percent of the families pay the entire tuition," says Siewert, "and all families have to pay a part; we work with them to find out what is a fair amount." Most of the school's operating budget, however, is funded through foundation grants and corporate and individual donations.
Troop 200 meets on Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 7:30. Then the Scouts adjourn to their regular evening study hall.
That the school includes troop membership as a mandatory program is a compliment to Scouting, says Tim McCandless, director of finance service for the Milwaukee County Council. "It further validates what we have always believedthat Scouting's program of character development and values-based leadership training delivers results."
Troop 200 also helps make Scouting more visible to the Hispanic community, where residents have been wary of a program that was new to them. "Some of that suspicion is gone now, because Scouting is a part of our school program," Siewert says. "And Scoutmaster John Emling, in particular, alleviates some of it because he does such a fantastic job."
That Emling became Scoutmaster was no mere coincidence. The school wanted the best possible leader for its new troop, and Emling was recommended by a council professional who knew of his leadership abilities.
Emling, who has a full-time job as a food-service representative, has been asked to help start a Scout troop at the church he regularly attends in a Milwaukee suburb. He declined, however, because of his continuing commitment to develop Nativity Jesuit's unique troop.
"Ideally, someone from within the Hispanic community will eventually become Scoutmaster of Troop 200," he says. "But until then, I will be in this troop as long as I'm in Milwaukee."
Nativity Jesuit and ScoutingPartners in Success
Troop 200's success has been attributable in equal parts to the Milwaukee County Council and Nativity Jesuit Middle School. The council's Scoutreach Program's Hispanic Initiative was created to serve children at risk residing in the city's underserved south-side community. Innovations from this program and from the school have helped the troop prosper.
The Milwaukee Council...
May-June 2000 Table of Contents
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