The largest Scouting group in the province, and one of the largest in Canada, is, just like the rest of us, adjusting to the ‘new normal.’
When the province went into lockdown in mid-March, Scouting came to an abrupt halt. Since then, members of the 1stParadise Scouts quickly adapted to an online environment.
But now, under Scouts Canada and provincial government regulations, the Paradise Scouts are able to meet in person once again.
“Scouts Canada has developed a five-stage approach to return to safe Scouting,” explained Chad Butt, Group Commissioner with 1st Paradise Scouting. “Stage 1 was from March until June when we were limited to virtual meetings only. Since September we’ve progressed through some of those stages. One of the things we’ve seen in recent weeks is that Scouts Canada is now recognising regional and provincial differences when it comes to the pandemic. So, it’s a different scenario here, say, than in Quebec or Ontario for example. So, as of last week, Newfoundland and Labrador is in Stage 4, which allows for us to get back inside. We have been limited to outdoor activities, but after the amount of time our kids— and ourselves— have been inside since March, that’s not a bad thing.”
However, as the weather gets colder and the evenings get darker, Butt said the option to hold activities inside has become more important, and that sessions will likely move inside in the coming weeks.
As part of the safe return to Scouting, 1st Paradise Scouts has had to cut back on enrollment, particularly in the younger age categories, such as Beavers, which includes kids in the kindergarten to Grade 2 range.
“As an example, our Beaver groups typically range from 25 up to probably even 30 kids. Right now, we’re been capping those to about 16,” said Butt.
The groups are further broken down into sub-groups, or cohorts, to help with social distancing and contact tracing.
“We have no more than eight kids in a cohort,” said Butt. “So, again, to use the Beavers example, if we have 16 kids in a Beaver colony, we have two cohorts of eight kids. And those cohorts are consistent from week to week… And we need to maintain physical distancing between those cohorts, and as much as possible, within those cohorts, particularly as we move inside.”
Currently, 1st Paradise Scouting is operating with some 168 youths. Last year, they were running at just over 200.
Despite the decrease, Butt said the need for adult leaders has actually increased, as leaders have added responsibilities of ensuring social distancing and supervising different cohorts.
“It puts a significant amount of added responsibility on our Scouters, our volunteer adult leaders, so it means we need more volunteer leaders,” said Butt, who said that thankfully the number of leaders is holding steady at around 40.
Because Scouting was operating in a virtual environment from March to June, Scouts Canada extended current memberships until the end of the calendar year.
Scouts Canada is also offering free trials for any new youth interested in joining this fall. That free trial will run out at the end of the year.
For some, Scouting turns into a lifetime of activity.
“I was involved in the scouting program as a kid, and my two boys led me to getting back into it, first as a volunteer leader about six years ago, and then just recently taking over as Group Commissioner this past July,” said Butt, who added that Scouting provides an opportunity for children to learn social and life skills, and gives parents an opportunity who volunteer to spend time with their kids away from all the screens and devices.
Mark Squibb, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Shoreline News