Scouting-Inspired Preparatory School Builds Leadership Within Students

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There are a number of different approaches to teaching, from the methods used in Montessori schools to those used in other charter schools. St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark New Jersey takes another unique approach that is based on a familiar handbook. That handbook is the Boy Scout Handbook. This school’s leadership structure is based strongly on the values of the Boy Scouts of America. Students gain the opportunity to lead their peers and make decisions regarding the happenings in the school. Perhaps most importantly, they are able to make mistakes and learn from them in a positive and constructive way.

Edwin Leahy, the headmaster of St. Benedict’s, was inspired by the Boy Scout Handbook to create a learning environment based on the morals of the Boy Scouts. This school was recently featured on an episode of 60 Minutes, in which journalist Scott Pelley explores the story behind St. Benedict’s and its student-based leadership.

Each and every day at St. Benedict’s, the values of the Scouting program play into the techniques used in the school system. One may be wondering exactly how this works, given that typically in a school system the teachers and the leaders and the students are followers. But St. Benedict’s system has been proven to bring its students to success. In fact, it was this system implemented by headmaster Edwin Leahy that turned the school around.

Leahy was a student at St. Benedict’s years before he became the headmaster and implemented his unique approach. After graduating, Leahy looked at St. Benedict’s as a former student and wanted to figure out how to improve this struggling school. As a man who relies heavily on the moral code of the Boy Scouts, he turned to the Boy Scout Handbook for inspiration. There he got the idea that children can lead themselves. Almost 50 years later, the school is a testament to the success that occurs when the Boy Scouts’ values are implemented into a school system.

Students are organized into groups, in which they compete for top grades. Students are given the opportunity to elect peer leaders from their groups. Students do a lot of the jobs typically allotted to faculty members, such as leading the group, setting schedules, and coordinating events. The school’s motto states that “Whatever hurts my brother hurts me”, indicating that the team outweighs the individual.

Leadership and teamwork aren’t the only aspects of Scouting that the school incorporates into its program. Every spring, the upperclassmen lead the new students on a four-day 55-mile hike. This allows the students to get to know one another while also interacting with nature.

Edwin Leahy has certainly left is his mark on St. Benedict’s school, and it is making a huge difference. In fact, most of the students enrolled at St. Benedict’s are from lower income communities where gang violence is rampant. This incredible school shows how the leadership values of Scouting can change a community and build brighter futures for young people.