Most of us have heard of the Eagle Scout Award through the Boy Scouts. But what about the Congressional Award? If that one is unfamiliar to you, you’re not alone. Keep reading because this prestigious award is not only a bright gold star on any student’s resume, but the activities they do to earn it are life changing.
The Congressional Award was established by the United States Congress in 1979 to recognize initiative, service and achievement in young people. It is a non-competitive program open to all 14-23 year olds (kids can register at 13 ½ and start working on it at 14).
I first learned about the Congressional Award when my son was about to graduate from high school. By then, Chase had so much on his plate that it didn’t seem possible to add one more thing – or so I thought at that time. Looking back, that was really foolish on my part.
I was deeply saddened that I hadn’t learned about it earlier so Chase could have worked on it through his upper middle and high school years, but what I didn’t realize was that even at 18, he could have added it to a weekly task list and been done by 20. What a wonderful accolade it would have been on his law school application.
Now that the Congressional Award is on my radar, my youngest daughter (a high school junior) is plugging it into her daily schedule and routine.
The Congressional Award is a quite significant honor. It is a national award that challenges students in many ways. Although it’s available to any U.S. student, Jenni and I think it’s something every homeschool family should seriously consider, regardless of what field your child is pursing. It’s a curriculum all unto itself. Public or private schooled students should start early and make it a priority. Many things your child is already doing can count towards the award. Why not help them get double the recognition for it? And the requirements that they are not already doing will build stamina, grit and teach valuable skills that they will use the rest of their lives. Every student is capable of earning a Congressional Award.
Jenni and I currently have three of our kiddos working on this award. We sat down with each kid and brainstormed ideas for meeting the various requirements. Then we helped them set goals for each of the project areas and broke those down into weekly and daily tasks. They each have a three ring binder with dividers that include sheets to track their progress and time spent on each task in each individual area. This way they have tasks laid out for them each week that will bring them closer to their personal goals and finish line.
How the Award Works
There are six levels of the Congressional Award within four program areas. The four program areas are: Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness and Expedition/Exploration. The six levels consist of Bronze, Silver and Gold Certificates and Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals. Each level is cumulative – time spent on one award is carried over to the next level. That way each time a student accomplishes a goal, he earns a certificate and eventually a medal.
There are hourly requirements along with minimum time frame requirements for each level. You can visit the Congressional Award website for details.
Applicants must choose an advisor to help them with each program area and validators to confirm that they have reached their goals, which allows them to network in their community throughout the journey. Applicants are also encouraged (but not required) to team up with organizations such as Boy Scouts, 4-H, Rotary and many others to help achieve their goals.
Voluntary Public Service
Voluntary Public Service is one of the four program areas required for the Congressional Award. Award participants must provide service to others and the greater community at large. The beautiful thing about the Congressional Award is that they don’t pigeonhole anyone. You can follow your passions in every area.
We have encouraged our kids to find a problem they are passionate about in the community and become a piece of the puzzle to the answer to that problem. The ability to identify problems and find solutions is enormously valuable and is one of the great benefits of participating in the Congressional Award program.
One of our kids is teaming up with a few organizations to create a princess event for little girls ages five to eight that will help them gain confidence and a healthy self-esteem. Another one is partnering with a non-profit organization that provides emergency housing to families to do a two-year documentary project under the guidance of a seasoned videographer.
Both of these kids are passionate about their projects and will gain tremendous life skills through this portion of the award alone. They will be communicating with other professionals, delegating responsibilities, learning how to market themselves and understanding the trials and tribulations of others. And through it all, they will gain greater organization skills and learn to think critically and solve problems.
Another part of the Congressional Award is developing personal interests, social or employment skills. Now this is fun! Our kids have chosen things they want to learn and of course are passionate about. One them is a phenomenal musician. She wants to be a professional vocalist, so one of her personal development goals is writing and recording an album – and she’s well on her way.
Another one of our kids is not going into music as a career but wants to learn to play the piano well enough to play on the church worship team. She’s is enjoying the journey as she builds new skills.
Many parents hope their children will develop a lifestyle of learning. Setting goals for this portion of the award may spark an enduring pursuit of growth and personal development.
The next part of the Congressional Award is improving quality of life and health through physical fitness activities. Now, this one has been quite entertaining for Jenni and I in both our homes. Two of our kiddos decided that they wanted to learn yoga. So, we get invaded with teenagers standing on their heads, (well, one of them tries to stand on her head and the other accomplishes it) and doing crazy poses. It’s quite humorous to watch.
While they do do yoga together, each one of them has also branched out to do their own thing. One is running and training for a 5K, and one is hanging from aerial silks. It’s such a cool thing to watch them team up to do some things together but also individualize and try other things on their own.
The last section offers a choice between an outdoor, wilderness expedition or a cultural exploration that can be either historical, cultural or environmental. Our kids are super excited about this part of the Congressional Award.
If you have an outdoorsy kid, how much fun would it be for him to plan a “live off the land” experience? On the other hand, if you have city girls like we do, an inspiring trip to study various cultures of the Big Apple can be life-changing.
Either way, the student plans, prepares and executes the experience independently. We are going to accompany our girls on their trip, but they will research, plan and direct every aspect of the trip, including raising the funds they need to take the trip.
Anyone Can Do It
All of this is doable! Why not take the time read through the Congressional Award website today, and help your child map out a plan?
If we encourage our kids to set the course, they will find their way to a Congressional Award and to success in general!