You won’t find many Scouts clamoring for summer camp to be more like school.

But what if the opposite could be possible? What if school could more closely resemble the high-energy, hands-on fun that makes Scout camp the greatest week of summer?

If anyone can pull that off, it’s Eagle Scout Ben Domonkos. Domonkos worked 10 summers on staff at the BSA’s Camp Tamarack near the Michigan-Indiana border (part of the LaSalle Council). So he’s learned a thing or two about capturing — and keeping — the attention of young people.

He uses those skills every day as an elementary school principal in Indiana. And this year, Domonkos was named “Principal of the Year” by Whole Brain Teaching, an education reform group that aims to make learning more fun.

“The Scouting program was pivotal in my decision to become an educator,” Domonkos says. “Many Scouting skills and tactics are just as useful as ever. I still use attention-getters, songs, and stories I learned at camp in my classroom today.”

Ben with his dad, Steve Domonkos, in 2011.
Ben with his dad, Steve Domonkos, in 2011.

Five pieces of advice for Scout leaders

We asked Domonkos for five lessons he’s learned as an educator that might help Scouters be better merit badge counselors or mentors.

  1. Engage your Scouts. “While completing the requirements to earn a merit badge can be motivating enough, it is vital to ensure Scouts are engaged in what they are working on. Make it fun!”
  2. Make it meaningful. “The lessons we can teach that Scouts can use even after earning a merit badge are the most important. Ensure application!”
  3. Make it count. “Make sure that when Scouts earn it, they truly earn it.”
  4. Be a learner. “Always work to better your craft. Never stop learning the latest ways to be a great teacher.”
  5. Remember that they are kids. “They will make mistakes. They’ll make you repeat yourself. They’ll forget to bring their sleeping bag on a campout. But at the end of the day, they are looking to you to help them be the best they can be.”

What Scouters can learn from Whole Brain Teaching

Part of the appeal of the Whole Brain Teaching method is its videogame-like reward system.

Students get stars for completing challenges that stimulate multiple parts of their brain. As they complete lessons, they level up — moving higher and higher on a chart displayed in the classroom. They aren’t competing against each other but trying to improve themselves.

That’s just like Scouting. In Scouts BSA, young people earn merit badges and advance in rank at their own pace — picking up valuable life lessons along the way. (And with Scoutbook, advancement is even more fun and interactive.)

As Scouters, we can encourage our Scouts to continue earning merit badges, advancing and taking on challenges of increasing difficulty.

Whole Brain Teaching, like the Scouts BSA advancement trail, is not easy. But young people don’t want it to be, Domonkos says. Back to the videogame comparison, Domonkos tells WNDU-TV that no young person buys a game they can beat in the first night.

“They don’t want that. You want to lose. You want to fail. You want to keep working,” Domonkos told the news station. “And really, teaching them that grit is super important.”

Ben (seated, left) and the Camp Tamarack Aquatics staff in 2012.
Ben (seated, left) and the Camp Tamarack Aquatics staff in 2012.

Lessons from summer camp

Domonkos became an Eagle Scout in 2005 as a member of Troop 111 from South Bend, Ind., part of the BSA’s LaSalle Council.

He comes from a proud Scouting family. His dad, Steve, was his Scoutmaster and is still active in Troop 111. And his brothers, Sam and Jake, are both Eagle Scouts.

Domonkos was 15 when he spent his first summer on staff at Camp Tamarack. Those six weeks changed his life.

“As I returned to camp year after year, my role changed from an adolescent trainee to a strong, influential leader,” he says. “The values instilled in me throughout the years spent at Camp Tamarack have remained with me and have served as a driving force behind the evolution of my teaching craft.”

It hasn’t been just the values that have persisted. He’s also used a few tricks of the summer camp trade. For example:

  • Showmanship. “Whether it’s a schoolwide assembly, the cafeteria, recess or a staff meeting, it is so vital to be prepared with your audience.”
  • Perseverance. “Camp was always described as long days and short weeks. At camp you are always on. When you wake up, eat meals, enjoy recreation time or teach a merit badge class, you are never not a camp counselor. The same goes for being a principal. Servant leadership is always on. The only difference from a camp counselor is we didn’t have to keep up with email over the weekend.”

It started in Scouting

The young man who, for his Eagle Scout service project, led a massive effort to restore two pipe organ chambers at his church, has become an award-winning principal.

As his time as a youth in Scouting grows more distant each year, Domonkos says there’s something that never seems to fade.

“The Scout Law,” he says. “While we may not use the same names of the points, those values and virtues are not only what drive me to be a good team member, administrator, teacher, friend, spouse and father. They also are many of the values and virtues we instill in our students.”

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