Unique prep school draws from Scouting values

The youth — not the adults — are in charge and plan events. Young people are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. And a simple raise of the right hand can quiet a room full of rowdy teenagers.

Yes, St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J., has a lot in common with a Boy Scout troop. Turns out that’s by design.

As shared in an uplifting story on the March 20 episode of 60 Minutes, headmaster Edwin Leahy, a former St. Benedict’s student, was contemplating ways to turn around the struggling school. He turned to the best source he could find.

“He had no idea how to run a school,” correspondent Scott Pelley said. “But he took inspiration from the ‘Good Book,’ the Boy Scout Handbook, which organizes boys to lead themselves.”

Nearly 50 years later, the school is a shining example of success precisely because it’s run like a Boy Scout troop.

Students are organized into groups (like patrols) and compete for top grades. Youth leaders, not adult faculty members, coordinate events, lead the group and set schedules. They’re allowed to make mistakes because, as Leahy says, “That’s a better learning experience for them.”

The team outweighs the individual, as prescribed in the school’s motto: “Whatever hurts my brother hurts me.” Sounds like a line in the Scout Oath: “to help other people at all times.”

And hiking? St. Benedict’s does that, too. Upperclassmen lead new students on a four-day, 55-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail each spring.

Even more impressive is that nearly all of the students come from low-income neighborhoods where gang activity is rampant. Thanks in part to an adherence to values perfected in Scouting, St. Benedict’s shines in tough circumstances.

The dropout rate in the city of Newark is 30 percent; at St. Benedict’s, it’s 2 percent. Eighty-five percent of graduates earn a college degree.

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Watch (or read a transcript of) the full story at the CBS website.

Photo via CBS News.


  1. Hello! While the times can and do change, basic human nature has not. That’s why Scouting’s values have endured. Basically, and quite simply, it works.

    Unfortunately, to youth, the thoughts of “being a Boy Scout” isn’t thought of as “cool”, but the stuff that Scouts DO IS thought of as “cool”.

    It’s nice that 60 Minutes gave the shout out line to Scouting in the piece.

  2. St. Benedict’s seems to have some of the same values as the Values of Boy Scouting (those would be embodied in the Law; Oath, Motto, and Slogan).

    However, the point that jumped out of the CBS program was that St. Benedict’s follows a Boy Scouting METHOD – the Patrol Method, to which much lip service is paid.

    Now someone needs to insist that Boy Scouting adults follow Boy Scouting methods, including it’s most important method – the Patrol Method. Enough troop, troop, troop. It’s patrol, patrol, patrol.

    • Now? Sadly, that ship sailed a LONG time ago. The number of troops who no longer fully embrace and follow the patrol method is at an all time and alarming high. This topic would be an excellent subject to more deeply discuss with input from across the country on what a troop is/was doing wrong, perhaps how/why it got to that unfortunate place, and what worked in getting the patrol method back on track.

      The root of this problem can most often be traced back to multiple reasons, some which include: Chartered Organizations that do not understand and fulfill their role as a chartering partner, Chartered Organization Representatives that do not understand or do their job effectively, and troop leaders (both adult and youth) who either are not properly trained (and in some cases leaders who consciously chose not to follow what they learned in training), helicopter parents who pressure troop leaders to change the troop program to better fit their personal agenda, oh and of course then there are those troops who have been doing it the wrong way for so long the troop culture is so broken they actually start believing the wrong way IS the correct way.

      What is even more disappointing is “patrol method” is one of the annual measures of Journey to Excellence yet the level of probing in terms of actual performance is set so low that a troop with essentially a non-functioning patrol method can achieve gold level which only further serves to provide negative reinforcement that the troop should continue doing what they have been doing.

      Unit and District Commissioners have long known which troops were following the patrol method and which were not. District and Unit Commissioners find little support among the professional staffers who prefer to turn a blind eye to troop programs of poor quality in favor of maintaining membership numbers. Remember the professional staffers are judged more on membership numbers than program quality. Press the professional staff to improve the quality of troop programs or the quality of troop leaders and the stock answer is always the Chartered Organization is responsible for making those decisions. Apparently what is actually printed in the Charter Agreement doesn’t matter and that sits just fine with those troop who actually prefer their Chartered Organization not be involved with anything they are doing.

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