By Suzannah Gilman
Photographs by Marci Snyder
Central Florida Council's University of Scouting offers volunteer leaders a fun day of learning with more than 80 classes to choose from, taught by a faculty of 225 Scouters.
t 8:30 on a sunny October morning outside University High School in Orlando, a squad of cheerleaders prepared to energize the more than 800 students waiting for classes to begin.
"Chase 'em down the alley! Run 'em down the street!" the cheerleaders shouted. "University of Scouting can't be beat!"
The cheerleaders were not only of the usual female variety, but included men wearing wigs. And the students were, in fact, Scouters, eager and ready to attend the Central Florida Council's annual University of Scouting.
They were anxious to get started because they knew two things are always true about the "U. of S.":
- As the bewigged cheerleaders had already demonstrated, one never knows what might happen at this all-day event.
- School was never this much fun!
More than just note-taking
Many classes are held in settings appropriate to their content (recreation activities meet outdoors, for example). But even classroom sessions - like "Scouting and the Internet" and "Den and Pack Ceremonies" - are more than just note-taking sessions.
For example "Den and Pack Ceremonies" instructor Frank Eirich had participants act out the ceremonies, complete with props and background music. Class members shared their experiences and offered tips on where to find materials.
Indoors or out, laughter filled the sessions. Who could keep from giggling when a Scouter, portraying a Cub Scout in a ceremony, got into character by untucking his shirt on one side and adjusting his collar to make it lopsided?
In "Pioneering and Lashing," participants made a catapult-like device called a ballista. The class ended with students testing their mechanisms in a raucous water balloon battle.
Naturalist Terry Singleton held a "show and tell" session on "Edible/Useful Wild Plants" outdoors.
He showed how to identify the wild plants, where to find them, and how to use them. This last grouping included using plants as tools, insect repellent, for direction-finding, and fire-building. Singleton's wilderness skill and knowledge made believers out of his students. One man was overheard saying, "If you had to get stuck in the woods with anyone, he's the one you'd want it to be."
Under a canvas awning, Red Yelvington, Scoutmaster of Troop 472 in Bunnell, explained how to use the table saws and drills he had set up for his course, "Woodworking Craft Ideas."
University of Scouting courses are popular because of this hands-on approach, Yelvington said. "A lot of the Scouters in this class looked at the project plans and said it was too hard, they'd never be able to make them. After I did a demonstration and made one, they changed their minds. Now look at them saw!"
One of those sawing away on a project was new den leader Cheryl Littrell of Pack 310 in Osteen. She explained that she became a den leader with the goals of motivating the boys, building character, and having fun.
"I came here today because learning to be a better leader is the right thing to do," she noted, adding that she was looking forward to bringing something home to her 8-year-old son and being able to a say, "Look what I made!"
She was also eager to share what she had learned with the Cub Scouts in her den, using the same "you can do it!" approach that Red Yelvington had used with her and her classmates.
Rick Rayl, from Troop 309 in Satellite Beach, taught a class on "Simple Camp Gadgets." Participants made stoves from metal food cans and ovens from cardboard boxes. While the class worked on gadget projects, Rick's son, Donny, baked a cake in a cardboard oven to share with t he class.
Cubmaster Jeff Beecherl and Pack Secretary Robin Beecherl of Pack 474 in Titusville already had made a cardboard oven several months earlier, for roasting meats. They signed up for Rick Rayl's course to learn even more gadget ideas. "When we found out we could cook a roast in a cardboard box," Rick said, "we wondered what else might be possible."
Changing with the times
Organizers regularly consider new subjects for the U. of S. curriculum. In 1997, for example, they added a course on "Scouting and the Internet," which was attended by computer-savvy individuals and self-proclaimed "dummies" as well. All came away with new knowledge - and a list of useful local and national Scouting Web sites.
Another new class addressed issues involved with "Women in Scouting." Milda Sandargas, an accomplished 4-bead Wood Badger (a course director; the highest level) explained the purpose of the class:
"It's about asking ourselves what we did yesterday, what we are doing today, what we will be doing tomorrow, and most importantly, who we are doing it for. We are doing it for the boys, and we want to do our best. And this class will help us to be equipped to do a better job."
In fact, her summary described the entire University of Scouting. Most, if not all, participants went home with improved skills and more enthusiasm than ever.
Freelance writer Suzannah Gilman is an active Scouter in the Central Florida Council.
Getting Bigger and Better
Years ago, the Central Florida Council looked for a way to offer Boy Scout leaders a training experience similar to the idea-filled, daylong district pow wow for Cub Scout leaders.
The result was the University of Scouting - for both Cub Scout and Boy Scout adult leaders and Boy Scout junior leaders as well.
Milda Sandargas, who organized that first U. of S., recalled the planning stages with a chuckle. "It was like the blind leading the blind," she said. "We didn't really know what we were supposed to do, so we did our best. And we tried to be prepared for anything, in both Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting."
More than 600 Scouters attended the first year. Classes were offered in as many subjects as volunteer instructor availability permitted: They included everything from Advancement to Dutch-Oven Cooking to Inter-Patrol Competition.
Some of the same instructors still teach courses, and many new faces have joined their ranks.
In 1997, 225 Scouters administered more than 80 classes. Attendees enrolled in as many as six classes, in subjects ranging from Cub Scout College, Boy Scout College, Exploring (Venturing), Junior College, General Studies, and District Commissioner Studies.
Exhibits Offer Useful Information
Classroom sessions weren't the only attraction at the University of Scouting. An exhibition area featured booths staffed by representatives from area sports teams and attractions like U.S. SPACE CAMP Florida at Kennedy Space Center and Water Mania theme park.
Exhibit visitors learned about group discounts and other special programs for Scouts.
For example, Universal Studios offers a reduced admission for Scout groups all year. And Walt Disney World has two merit badge programs at its zoological garden, Discovery Island, as well as the Disney Youth Education Series, which gives Scouts the opportunity to fulfill partial requirements toward other merit badges.
Many Locations Can Be a 'Campus'
Despite the name, a University of Scouting can be held on locations other than a college campus. A lot of classrooms and a large central location (such as a courtyard) for opening ceremonies are the main requirements.
The first Central Florida Council U. of S. was held at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. But the college also had regular weekend classes, and Scouters had to share the campus with undergraduates. The switch to University High School let Scouters have the facilities to themselves, making the event more intimate.
Scouters pay a small registration fee ($6 in 1997), which includes up to six classes, information handouts, a patch, and a diploma.
Most instructors provide the materials for their classes, so participants have no additional fees. Red Yelvington, Scoutmaster of Troop 472 in Bunnell, says that 99 percent of the materials for his woodworking class were donated. Other instructors saved items like tin cans and soda bottles for class projects.
Lunch, prepared by support staff and served in the cafeteria, is offered for two to three dollars and provides a setting for Scouters to share experiences and socialize.
May-June 1999 Table of Contents
Copyright © 1999 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.
|The Boy Scouts of America||http://www.scouting.org|