GALVESTON — The Bay Area Council Boy Scouts started the first bilingual unit in the county at Galveston’s Alamo School in response to studies that show more Hispanic boys drop out of the program than any other demographic.
Regional Scout leaders pointed to a high Hispanic population on the island as reason to focus on ways to keep the interest of the boys — and their parents — from waning.
Countywide, the biggest challenge is the language barrier that non-English speaking parents face, District Director Lisa Stegman said.
“We get boys who join every year, but within two to three meetings, they’re gone because the parents don’t understand a single thing,” she said.
The children are bilingual because they’re enrolled in school. They frequently must translate the information shared in meetings for their parents, Stegman said.
“This is more for the parents,” she said. “They don’t want to be relying on their 7-year-old to communicate for them. We’re giving the parents the choice to join a unit where they feel comfortable and want to stay in the program. We’re not segregating Hispanic youth into Hispanic units.”
Dio Gonzalez is a coordinator for Scout Reach, a Boy Scouts of America initiative to recruit members from underserved communities. The 26-year-old Galveston native leads the Scout meetings at Alamo School, 5200 Ave. N½, every Tuesday evening. He remembers wanting to join the Cub Scouts as a child but said his Spanish-speaking mother was uncomfortable with the idea.
“Mom didn’t speak a lick of English,” he said. “And there was no information in Spanish — or even anyone who could speak Spanish.”
That language barrier, plus the implied cost of joining, kept his mother from agreeing to his request to join.
“I missed that opportunity,” Gonzalez said. “That’s why I joined — to help kids who can’t join either because they don’t have the means or because of the uncertainty of their parents. All boys should be given the opportunity to join Scouting.”
Stegman hired Gonzalez to visit elementary schools in the region specifically to recruit Hispanic children.
He had an informational meeting at every elementary school in the district just for the students, where he gave them fliers printed in Spanish to take home to their parents.
The effort proved effective, he said.
“Once that flier gets home and they see it’s in Spanish, parents will call me and go out of their way to seek help in their language,” he said.
Parents like Alma Jimenez and her husband, Manuel Alvarado, agreed to let their 7-year-old son, Elias, join Alamo’s Cub Scout Pack 29 after Gonzalez visited his first grade class at Morgan Elementary.
While family members speak Spanish at home, Elias is bilingual and often translates for his parents, who speak some English.
They said they would have allowed him to join regardless of the bilingual status of the group but said it’s much easier for them to participate because Gonzalez speaks both English and Spanish.
“Dio is a good teacher,” Jimenez said. “Every Tuesday, my son looks forward to Boy Scouts.”
Since joining Scouts, Jimenez said she’s noticed a marked improvement in Elias’ behavior at school and that he’s generally more confident.
That’s exactly what Stegman said the Boy Scouts wanted to accomplish.
“We’re trying to break barriers down to get the kids to get some character values in their life,” she said.
That’s why she founded the Hispanic Initiative Committee, comprised of about 10 professionals, mostly from the Galveston Independent School District, who are familiar with the challenges facing the students and their parents.
‘A long road’
Gonzalez and Stegman, together with the committee members, are trying to form a bridge between parents and other Scout leaders, she said.
“It’s been a long road,” she said. “Even ordering Spanish handbooks for Scouts has been challenging. When we ordered them in both languages, members of other councils spoke out. There’s a lot of animosity toward the fact that (parents) have a choice to speak English or not. You’d be surprised.”
Once enough parents volunteer to lead the bilingual meetings at Alamo School, Gonzalez will move on to other areas in the county with high Hispanic populations and start other bilingual groups.
League City, Dickinson, Texas City and La Marque are ideal for charter locations, he said.
Charter groups will help cover some or all of the cost of uniforms and the Scouting handbooks, he said.
Jimenez encouraged parents to seek information about the bilingual Scout groups not just for their children, but as an opportunity to network with other parents like themselves.
“Don’t be scared to try it out,” she said.
For information about bilingual Cub Scout and Boy Scout meetings, contact Dio Gonzalez at 409-392-3085 or visit the Bay Area Council page of the Boy Scouts of America website at www.bacbsa.org.