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.