Religious affiliated teams and outside mentors

This post is addressed to all the teams on CD affiliated with a religious school or organization, or any teams in communities with particular moral standards.

My team is affiliated with a nonsectarian Christian school. The school has strong standards for teachers, namely agreeing to the school’s stated beliefs. This is perfectly reasonable for regular faculty as they teach and disciple students. Sports coaches also comply with the school’s standards.

Our team needs to bring in outside help, whether that be experienced FIRST mentors, interested industry professionals, or other local teams and mentors to help grow our program. However, the school has frustrated our attempts to allow outside mentors who aren’t essentially vetted and hired by the school. We intend to explain YPP and FIRST safeguards for FRC teams to the administration.

To all the religious teams out there, how have you, if at all, dealt with this dilemma? What guidelines have you put in place to satisfy YPP and appease your school administrations?

Could you elaborate on why they require folks to be vetted and hired? I am not understanding the jump from volunteer-type mentorship to hiring someone.

Are there agreements that students/parents make to attend your school? BYU requires all students and faculty to abide by an honor code.

The team I work with is from Visitation School, an independent catholic school, so I think we’re the sort of team you’re looking for info from!

I don’t know about teachers and other school employees, but for us mentors, personal beliefs have never even come up. As far as I know, no one at the school as ever asked a mentor their religion - I certainly haven’t been asked, and I’ve been doing this for the team for 13 years! And, frankly, religion never comes up within the team, it’s never been an issue.

The school administration does have some hoops for us to jump through, though, which essentially duplicates YPP. From our mentor handbook:

New mentors will be provided with Archdiocesan required, E3 Volunteer paperwork to fill out. This includes (1) a form authorizing a background check, (2) scheduling & completing Virtus training, and (3) a form acknowledging the code of conduct.

All mentors must keep their Archdiocesan Virtus training and modules up to date, and may periodically be asked to complete another background check.

They perform background checks every few years, and updating your Virtus training (essentially a 2-hour long in person YPP program) is about the same. The code of conduct is just like what it sounds - be a good role model and don’t do anything stupid. None of it is overly religious in nature.

As mentors, we also enforce school standards with the students, which really isn’t a big deal. It means some of it is written into our handbook with the team dress code and student expectations like “You are expected to exude a respectful, Salesian, graciously professional attitude and practice coopertition, honesty, and integrity at all times.” (We make an effort to marry FIRST’s core values with the schools, it works out pretty well), and we then hold the students to it.

All said, it’s maybe a little more involved than most public school teams, but nothing that’s harmed our ability to recruit mentors - we currently have 10 mentors working with the team, and have had another 20 that went through the process, mentored for a while, and for one reason or another stopped (many due to significant life changes, like getting married, having kids, or moving to a different state).

Please feel free to PM me if you want to share/discuss more details in private, otherwise I’m happy to continue to respond in public :slight_smile:

Perhaps you can get the school to accept that mentors may not discuss religious issues while mentoring your team. Robotics is after all a non-religious discipline as is engineering or other sciences. The potential for your students to succeed is so great that school administrators should understand the benefits to their students. That is not to say that Christian engineering mentors do not exist. It is just difficult to search for qualified mentors by religious beliefs over their engineering expertise. If you would think that your administrators would be open to discussion, we could set up a phone conference if you think that would help.

To piggyback on Al’s suggestion, I could probably help with such a phone call as well. The Dean of Students at our school is a huge supporter of the team (She was even a mentor for a few years, until other duties took up too much of her time), I may be able to get her involved too if you think it would help.

By " vetted and hired", I don’t mean actually hiring volunteers in any formal capacity but rather ensuring volunteers conform to the school’s ideals. Our sports coaches, even the volunteer coaches, are held to the same statement of faith as teachers since they are “discipling” students as well as coaching them in sport. The Dean of student life wants the same from the robotics team I guess.

We hope to convince the administration to do something similar to what Jon outlined, where mentors are subject to YPP guidelines and honor school standards (similar to Jon’s). I will PM if I need any more help and about any updates in this process.

Thanks for the great answers!

The school I attended (and that 1836 is based out of) is a Jewish school. The school hires Jews and non-Jews alike, making this a decidedly different conversation. However, this one tidbit may be of help:

Before each event, the entire team (everyone going to the event) has a “Jewish Context” lunch meeting with the school Rabbi. I won’t bore anyone with specifics, but the general point of the meeting was “How will you make sure you’re aware of your Judaism during the event?” (e.g. values, etc.).

When talking to your school, maybe you can use something like this as a sort of bargaining chip - the school will hire (or allow) non-religious mentors but the team will consider religious context more (or something, anything).

Hope this helps!

My sons attend a catholic school, and I help out with their VEX IQ program. All adults who come in contact with students through school-sponsored programs (football, kickball, robots, choir, etc.) must have taken the Safe and Sacred online training. It is very similar to YPP training, and lets adults know the school’s official stance on some issues.

I won’t hold your feet to the fire, but when the school says that “all” volunteers have to sign on to a belief pledge that states things like “God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as either male or female…” and “[marriage is] between one man and one woman only, with the husband born male and the wife born female.”, it is going to limit the pool of qualified mentors can draw from. I wouldn’t sign it, I don’t even think the first statement is even biologically factual. However, there are engineers I know that would have no issues signing. Fewer scientists, in my experience. The pool of potential mentors is limited further than just any Christian because of the types of beliefs listed, which have some denominational differences, for example my Methodist beliefs are not inline with these, although some Methodists would agree.

It is a selling point of the school to make such belief statements a requirement and how it affects your team and volunteers will be determined by how active the school is in having school volunteers to read and sign it. Unrelated to FIRST, a gay scientist I know was hired to teach at a Southern Baptist college when the school wasn’t enforcing their religious belief statements strongly and then later the church board exerted control, so that is a risk if you do manage to avoid the school’s current requirements for volunteers.

So, I’m not sure how far I would push it with your administration. If not already, you could be searching for mentors through the network of churches that members are involved in. And you may go to the admin to see if they have ideas for finding mentors. If you do find a willing mentor that is uncomfortable signing the pledge, then you can approach the question of whether they would be allowed to join.

I think they are just unfamiliar with outside volunteers. The school has a strong volunteer base of parents and families, who naturally agree with the school’s statements of faith.

While our private school is not officially religiously affiliated, I’m assuming it was at some point as we have a chapel on campus. With that said, I think this suggestion is the best approach for your team. I’ve worked with plenty of mentors who are openly religious. My team also has every mentor fingerprinted and background checked by the school (every mentor also gets a badge for entering buildings), but I’m not sure how many of them would agree to sign something that affiliates them on paper with a religious institution’s beliefs (this could be for many reasons, but especially if someone wants to run for local office at some point).

I think you can come to a good compromise here with the school, it all starts with discussing that you need mentors first and foremost, and that you need them asap.

My previous (community) team recruited students from a number religious schools in our area and the administration never gave us any sort of push-back since our program was “a-religious”.

It sounds like you’re on the right track explaining YPP to the administration. You might also look into how other volunteers are handled (such as sports boosters or PTA organizations). That said, I suspect if you look, you’ll probably be able to find “outside help” that wouldn’t object to signing on to the schools standards, maybe even parents or other relatives of students attending the school.

It would be good to ask up front if the school requires volunteers to have the same religious beliefs that school is based on. To work with them effectively, you need to “know what the rules are” and what is acceptable and what is not, just like you need to know the rules related to the FRC game. Do they have the same requirements for their suppliers i.e. the company that sell floor wax to them, the company that sells them photocopy paper and the electrician they bring in to fix a bad light fixture?

I have recently started mentoring at a Catholic school. They have not asked about my religious beliefs and I have not raised the issue myself. The school has students and faculty who are not Catholic and exercise different beliefs so this school’s expectations may be different from that of the school you are working with.

Not only would I not sign such a pledge, but I don’t think I can even reconcile how such a thing would be in accordance with FIRST’s YPP guidelines or Code of Conduct.

I don’t know of any school related programs that have outside volunteers, that’s the thing. Sports coaches sign the Statement of Faith, and volunteers are primarily parents (who also sign the Statement of Faith).

The Dean of student life put it this way. They wish for teachers/mentors/coaches to be “discipling” students in faith and character as well as in sport, so agreement with school beliefs is apparently necessary for interacting with students.

I hope to convince them, as cbale2000 put it, that FRC is a-religious, that we can enforce school standards of conduct, that students will benefit from industry mentorship, and that there are plenty of other opportunities for “discipling”.

(As a side note, parents are required to sign the same statement of faith, students are not and the school has made clear they will not punish “reasonable” dissent by students)

(Note: this post does not reflect the thoughts or opinions of anyone but myself. Other individuals connected to my team may have different opinions, and were not consulted)

I also would not sign that pledge, as it goes against a lot of who I am as well as what I believe in. If I were, for some reason, to sign it, then I would be unable to share many aspects of my personal life with anyone, including other mentors. I personally think that enforcing those views is actually potentially harmful for certain categories of students - for example, students who might be questioning their sexuality and looking for a role model or for mentor advice.

Unfortunately, from what I understand, it’s within the school’s right to require that pledge for anyone participating. If the school is a religious organization, it’s probably safe to assume that the families of any students are OK with that restriction. If you don’t like the school’s rules, then they could certainly argue that you shouldn’t be allowed to play with them - whether that means joining a different team, not being sponsored by them, etc.

I’m monitoring this thread closely as it is a unique subject.

I ask that posters try to refrain from commenting on the school’s practices themselves, and instead try to answer the OP’s initial questions, regardless of your opinions.

“To all the religious teams out there, how have you, if at all, dealt with this dilemma? What guidelines have you put in place to satisfy YPP and appease your school administrations?”

That is why I asked about the suppliers to the school. Perhaps one can view the mentors as suppliers of expertise, knowledge and guidance that none of the people currently associated with the school possess.

If your school is inflexible regarding this requirement, then it is an extra constraint that your team has to work with. It may mean that your team has to work harder to overcome this particular constraint. There are teams that have to overcome constraints different from yours. For example, there are teams in the Rio Grande Valley that are 100 miles from an Ace Hardware store and many teams in Hawaii have air travel and shipping of their robot to deal with to attend any event.

I agree both with your thoughts on the statement and about the team. I am still hopeful we can figure something out, but if not Austin has a community team (6377).

Fortunately the school’s leaders are legitimately compassionate, caring people who I trust even while disagreeing with (multiple of) their beliefs. Some students would probably benefit by seeking counseling elsewhere, but I do not expect the school to judge and condemn them as so often occurs in religion.

From what you’ve been adding, it really sounds like you’re going to have an uphill battle here. I will say that it’s entirely possible for faith based organizations to keep the faith alive within the team without requiring that level of involvement from the mentors. Within our team, students (usually the captains) lead prayers before team meals, and the drive team prays before matches. We have student-led discussions about how FIRST’s values match up with the school’s. Essentially the students themselves lead that effort, not the mentors.

All of that might be a good way to approach this. FRC really is different from other school activities. On sports teams, the coach is the leader of the team, plain and simple. On FRC teams, the students can be the leaders, with mentors acting as advisers. That difference in how things are run may help your argument.

Finally, I would strongly urge you to go into discussions with your school administration with an open mindset. You aren’t looking to force the school to change, and you aren’t looking to get around their rules. You’re looking for an open dialog so you can find a way to both get the mentors your team needs and support the school’s rules and values.

It may also be worth asking the school administration what are looking to get from the program. What sort of outcomes are they looking for? What sort of impact would they like the team to have on the school and community? It’s a great chance to talk to them about the non-technical aspects of FRC teams and how the team can benefit the school beyond just being another club/sport. I can tell you - the team can help the school with recruiting new students. I can think of multiple cases were my team played a role in a students decision to attend our school over their other options.