Madison Spears, a senior studying early childhood education at The University of Toledo, has spent many summers helping youngsters foster their love of scouting at Camp Miakonda in Toledo. Now, she does it all year long through the virtual Cub Scout pack she leads.
“When COVID-19 happened, I watched all these scouting packs shut down,” Spears said. “It was bothering me. You were either in person or you didn’t get to participate in scouting.”
The idea for the virtual pack came after Spears and three others transformed Camp Miakonda’s annual day camp into a virtual one after it was canceled in summer 2020. They made supplies available for pickup, scheduled Google Meets and did their best to inject normalcy into the kids’ lives.
The virtual pack took shape in November 2020 and currently has 15 members in kindergarten through fifth grade, including four from out of state. Word spread quickly among Cub Scouting groups on Facebook.
“Every child should have the chance to be in Scouting,” Spears said. “If you don’t have the time to rank up or work on requirements, but you come to our pack meetings and I get to hear your kid laugh and enjoy themselves, that’s enough for me. That’s why I do it. They need some normalcy and I hope we provide that for them.”
A future elementary school teacher, Spears used many of the tools and resources she’s learned in class and from student teaching to create the virtual pack. She adapted the Scouting requirements to fit a virtual format and created detailed guides using Google Slides, so the children could complete Scouting requirements at home with their families.
One presentation, for example, instructs Cub Scouts on how to properly and safely use a pocketknife. Another, aimed at younger members, focuses on creating art using shapes. Spears estimated she spent 20 to 30 hours a week for several weeks developing the presentations.
“Madison Spears is the type of young educator you would want in your organization. She’s one who is truly passionate about teaching, learning and ensuring that her students are successful in every way – holistically,” said Dr. Rhonda Aguiton, assistant lecturer in UToledo’s Judith Herb College of Education and one of Spears’ mentors.
“Madison always looks into ways she can equip herself with knowledge and tools to be able to help others become better selves. Empathy, dedication, motivation and enthusiasm are qualities that Madison possesses, as well as being an advocate for young people.”
The Cub Scout pack meets monthly via Google Meets to go over their requirements, connect with one another and have some fun.
“You think kids would get bored of virtual bingo, but every month they ask if we’re going to play,” Spears said. “The Google Meets are my favorite thing ever. If I’m going to be the only person who tells these kids they’re amazing, then I’m going to be that person. There are a lot of kids right now who don’t have that at home. Scouting and teaching are about giving kids someone to lean on and someone to help them grow.”
The goal is for Pack 336 to continue to serve as an option for children uncomfortable or unable to meet in person.
“This idea was birthed out of responding to the needs of COVID,” said Tami Norris, Pack 336’s chartered organization representative and a UToledo alumna. “My dream is that it continues on so children who might not otherwise have the option can still get a Scouting experience.” Pack 336 is chartered by Epworth United Methodist Church on Central Avenue.
Spears is completing her student teaching requirements at Birmingham Elementary in Toledo and will graduate in May. She plans to continue volunteering as the Cubmaster for Pack 336 after graduation.