Sometime I get it right the first time; sometimes I need to get whacked upside the head. Here’s a case where I really blew it first time out the gate. Luckily, this parent-Scouter was pretty darned forgiving…
My question became an issue last night, and our troop meeting is tonight, so I’m trying to get answers as quickly as possible. My questions are about Family Life merit badge-requirement 5:
– Does the family project require the MBC’s pre-approval?
– Does the Scout have to complete req. 4 before doing 5?
– Are req’s 4 and 5 dependant upon each other in any way?
– Would doing 5 before 4 change the badge’s core value?
– Would a family working together to create a quail habitat on their farm reflect the guidelines of this merit badge?
I used the language of a MBC in my questions so that there is no “wiggle room” when getting this matter resolved. (Chantal Doolin, ASM, Ozark Trails Council, MO)
I have no idea why you need this information before your troop meeting tonight—Merit badges aren’t done in troop meetings; they’re done by Scouts, as they choose to, on their own and outside of troop meetings. Besides, what does an Assistant Scoutmaster need this information for? These are issues that Scouts work out between themselves and their Merit Badge Counselor(s). ASMs have nothing to do with questions like these, UNLESS you’re running a merit badge “class” and this is your first time doing it, in which case you’re way off base! I strongly suspect that someone’s running a maverick merit badge class, and this isn’t the Scouting way. If I’m wrong, tell me, and I’ll apologize publicly and with total sincerity.
(And, guess what… I was totally off-base!)
The fact is, I’m an ASM who has a son who’s starting Family Life merit badge, and all my questions were in reference to what his Merit Badge Counselor has said about requirements 4 and 5.
You see, as a family, we’re currently working on 40 of our farm’s acres—turning them into a quail habitat. We’ve worked on this as a family from Day One, choosing the kinds of trees and bushes we’d plant, then planting them and cleaning fence rows, taking soil samples and now buying seed, disking the land, and planting the seeds. But my son’s MBC told him that this couldn’t be his “family project” for req. 5 because she didn’t give him approval on it before we started it, and she wasn’t so sure that it was a project that reflected the meaning of the merit badge.
She also told him that req. 4 has to be done before 5, and this makes it a pre-approval issue: Req. 4 must be completed before 5, otherwise that would change the badge’s “core value.”
For req. 4, my son wanted to replace and add more smoke detectors in our house with new and improved ones that he’d heard about, but his MBC keeps saying that that would work for Personal Management merit badge instead. We don’t understand why he couldn’t do it for his “personal” project for Family Life.
My husband and I read the Family Life requirements with our son, and couldn’t determine how she came up with these issues or why she wouldn’t accept the project. We’re trying to clarify the matter, so our son can continue on and complete the merit badge that he wanted to work on. It’s our understanding that if the requirement doesn’t stipulate that approval is required, the Counselor can’t just add that to the requirements on a whim. We are thinking that the approval for req. 4 is to make sure that the Scout doesn’t choose a project that could be dangerous to himself or others… Do we have that right? We also understand that if a Scout has completed a task and has proof of it, that task shouldn’t be disqualified simply because it was done prior to his starting the merit badge… Have we misunderstood this aspect?
I’m not looking for sugar-coating. We need to know what’s correct. Thanks for your time and assistance. (Chantal Doolin)
Well, I guessed wrong and messed up big time! This apology will definitely go in my next column (so here it is), especially because you overlooked my little rant and came back with good, solid questions in the best interests of your son. As a former Family Life MBC, let’s see if I can actually help you out this time instead of making wrong the assumption…
The intention of req. 4 is for your son to be the initiator of an idea for a family-benefiting project and then carry it out himself. The quail habitat project might qualify if (a) your son came up with the idea on his own and (b) did it on his own. If not both (a) and (b), then he’ll need to follow what req. 4 says. But if he did do both (a) and (b) then he can ask that it qualify and the decision’s up to you and your husband and the MBC.
Alternatively, your son’s smoke detector replacement idea seems to me to be perfectly appropriate for Family Life’s req. 4 and I’m at a loss to understand his MBC’s reluctance to approve this. In fact, I really don’t see where this idea fits any of the requirements for Personal Management (which I’ve just read), but even if it did, if it fits Family Life then if I were your son’s MBC I’d say go for it!
The intention of req. 5 is for your son to do the planning of a project and then involve his other family members. Again, if the quail habitat project was (a) his idea and (b) he “recruited” you all to participate in it (i.e., you didn’t recruit him), then he can and should ask that it qualify.
Although it would be logical for req. 4 to be done before req. 5 (in point of fact, all the requirements for this merit badge are laid out in progressive order and it would make good sense and good learning to do them in the order in which they’re listed), this isn’t mandatory. The order in which merit badge requirements are completed is decided on by the Scout, with the advice, counsel, encouragement, and support of his MBC. If there are sound reasons for doing them in a different order than listed, then that should be OK.
In general, “approval” (whether from a MBC for a merit badge like this or from a Scoutmaster for a service project or community service time) is best obtained in advance, so as to prevent unhappy surprises later.
For merit badges in general, the “rule of thumb” is that work on the requirements formally begins when the Scout has begun the merit badge. “Beginning” a merit badge is defined as: The Scout has (1) obtained a signed application (aka “Blue Card”) from his Scoutmaster and (2) has had his first meeting with his Merit Badge Counselor. Until both (1) and (2) have occurred, the Scout is not considered to have started the merit badge.
Thank you for such a thorough reply. Our son will need to pick another family project, since we did kick the idea around with him prior to the start of it and he did help plan the layout, but we can’t say that it was an original idea by him to create it. We mistakenly thought the key to the requirement was that the family would share a meaningful project, but overlooked who was supposed to initiate it. Thank you for clarifying that. The funny thing is that the MBC said the habitat was a fine project, except that it had not been pre-approved (she never asking who came up with the project to begin with), which led all of us to believe this was a “power” issue. I hope we were mistaken about that, tool!
We’ll have him discuss his smoke detectors idea further, to see if the MBC will accept it, since that was his own idea. Thanks for helping our son on his Eagle trail! (Chantal Doolin)
Personally, I really like that smoke detector idea… It’s the sign of a responsible young man and, who knows, it just might save a house or a life! (Although, truthfully, I hope they never go off!)
About “going backwards” and earning Cub Scout ranks missed because of not joining as a Tiger… My own son also didn’t start until he was a Wolf because our school district didn’t have a Cub Scout pack until that year. What my son likes about NOT having earned the Tiger badge is that now, as a Webelos Scout, he can wear all four of the diamond-shaped Cub Scout rank badges together on his shirt—Bobcat, Wolf, Bear, and Webelos—along with the Arrow Points he earned as a Wolf and Bear. If he had earned the Tiger badge, there wouldn’t be a place for the diamond Webelos badge, so he’d probably have to use the oval one and change uniforms entirely. He worked hard to earn the other ranks when he was younger, so he’s proud to show them off. I explained the two options to all the boys in my den, and they all opted to wear all four of the diamond badges instead of one oval badge. So I’d suggest that the Bear Scout should focus on earning his Bear rank and then work on his Arrow Points.
Thanks for writing such a wonderful column. I’ve learned a lot that’s now helping me to evaluate the various Boy Scout troops that my son might cross over to in February. I’ve also enjoyed the emotional lift that some of your heart-warming stories have given me. (Debbie Burton, WDL, Northeast Illinois Council, IL)
Bingo! You’ve got it right on the money, and so does your son!
Where can I find information about the Scout symbol, with the two stars, band, three points of the fleur-de-lis, and scroll? (Bill Taylor)
It’s in any edition of the Boy Scout Handbook or Handbook for Boys; it’s also in the Webelos Scout Book.
I’m a Tiger Cub den Leader and was told at a leaders meeting that “snipe hunts” are no longer allowed by the BSA. Despite this, snipe hunts have been major events at our pack camp-outs. Could you please advise me on. (Brandi Roberts, Cape Fear Counsel, NC)
Currently, snipe hunts are considered a form of hazing if not abuse because the snipe-hunting boy is made to be the fool by the boys and leaders “in the know.” The only “reward” to a snipe hunt comes later when the previous flock of made-fools-of boys gets to inflict this on the next flock of “newbies.” That’s why it’s been disallowed.
Your recent column about Scouting volunteers who do things their own way instead of using a hundred years of accumulated experience really hit home. You’ve written many times that voting with one’s feet is always an option, and that there are other troops out there that do things right. Perhaps. But what to do when the problem extends through the district and even up to the council level? In recent months, I’ve heard the following:
– From a District Advancement Chair: The idea that the Scouts in the troop elect their SPL is “merely a recommendation;” the troop’s adults can appoint the SPL.
– From a District Advancement Chair: After a Scout turns in a merit badge blue card that’s been properly completed and signed off by the Counselor, it’s OK for the Scoutmaster to sit the Scout down and quiz him to determine if he really earned the badge.
– From a council professional: Eagle Scout candidates are required to arrange for letters of reference to be written and submitted before their BOR.
– From various district-level Scouters: A non-Eagle BOR can include people who aren’t members of the unit committee.
– From a Scoutmaster: Time served in a leadership position during a month when there’s no planned troop activity doesn’t count toward tenure for rank advancement.
Based upon what I’ve seen in BSA literature and in your column, none of the above is correct. Am I missing something, or are these people off the mark? (Anonymous in New Jersey)
Yup, they’re off the mark on every point. Bloody scary!
I’d like to know if the BSA has a required number of meetings or camp-outs a Scout must attend in order to hold a leadership position in a troop. (No name or council)
Nope! There’s no such stipulation by the BSA. If a local troop is insisting on this sort of stuff, this suggests that there’s an underlying problem of participation, and this is often the result of boring meetings and camp-outs. Neither participation nor enthusiasm can be legislated.
In a recent column, you mentioned that the Commissioner’s Arrowhead Honor patch should be removed from your uniform if you’re no longer serving as Commissioner. With all due respect, I disagree with this. I recently traded hats from District Commissioner to District Training Chair, and so sewed on the District Committee Member patch but kept my Arrowhead on, because I view it much like my Commissioner Key Distinguished Commissioner Service Award square knots: My time, service, training, and accomplishments don’t disappear when I change roles, plus it serves as a way to get a “what’s that cool patch?” question.
On another subject, I think the reason why the BSA experiences the problem of very few adult volunteers in the 20-35 age range is two-fold. One, the BSA does not have a strong relationship with the college and university system nationwide (Venturing may help solve this, and also the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity, but more could be done). Two: Advancement. The youth for years have a pretty clear “trail” of advancement to follow, but once they hit the magic number of 18 or 21, the trail disappears, and they’re left on their own to blaze their own trail. So who wants to be 19, 22, or even 25, surrounded by (at least on the district and council levels) a herd of—with all due respect—silver hairs? (Kortney Jendro, Northern Star Council, MN)
On the Arrowhead honor, you can be as respectful as you care to, but the BSA policy (not my opinion, or yours, either) is that it’s worn with and only with a Commissioner badge of office, period.
I agree with you on the BSA losing touch with members who “age out.” I’ve often thought (and even written to Roy Williams about this) that at least an “alumni association” of some sort might help keep guys like you (or younger) more “in the loop,” so that when you consider volunteering for something you consider Scouting. Maybe some day we’ll see this happen. We have two pretty terrific guys in Rick Cronk and Don Belcher, National President and National Commissioner, respectively, and our new CSE looks like a pretty sharp guy, too! I’d be shocked if we didn’t see some significant positive changes very soon!
I’m a Webelos II den Leader. Each of my boys has earned enough requirements to be awarded the Arrow of Light. Would it be appropriate to conduct a special Arrow of Light ceremony with the pack right now, and then hold a separate bridging ceremony at the Blue & Gold banquet in February? Could you suggest an Arrow of Light ceremony? (Chris Hofmann, WDL, Dan Beard Council, OH)
It’s totally appropriate for there to be separate ceremonies, because each has its own, unique meaning and purpose. Your Webelos can definitely receive their AOL as soon as they’ve earned it, and then bridge over to their chosen Boy Scout troop at the February B&G.
The BSA publishes a book on ceremonies (name escapes me at the moment) and you can probably track it down at your local Scout Shop or at www.Scoutstuff.org And don’t rule out getting in touch with the ceremonies team of your council’s Order of the Arrow lodge for this!
Do you have any ideas for games that Joeys (6-8 years old) can play? (Tracey Moyle, Joey Scout Leader, Queensland, Australia)
What’s the main difference between Brownsea Training and NYLT? And, is it unheard of to staff in another country? (In my case it may be the Golden Falcons program in the Transatlantic Council, except now that Camp Freedom’s destroyed, do you know where it’s going to be? (Yoni Miller, Brooklyn Council, NY)
“Brownsea” is a term used by many councils for many different training course configurations, so there’s no possible way for me to compare it to NYLT for you. NYLT is, of course, the updated version of what had for many years been the council-level JLT training, which itself goes by various other names throughout stateside BSA councils.
No, it’s definitely not unheard of to staff (or attend!) a training course in another country, be it a BSA course or a course specific to that country’s Scout program. To determine what training will be offered by the Transatlantic Council, and where, get in touch with that council at: http://www.tac-bsa.org/
I’ve been a Cub Scout parent for three years and have this year taken on the role of Tiger Cub den Leader. I’m a little confused about the requirements for the Outdoor Activity Award, which is in the Tiger Books. The main requirement for all the ranks is “attend a CS day or resident camp.” If our Tiger program starts in September with the first grade school year, and our Tigers become Wolves in June, when are they supposed to attend the camp? How could they earn this award as Tigers? If you say the Tiger year should start in June, don’t you think it would be a little difficult to have one of their first activities to be a Scout camp? I’ve seen some various “opinions” in the forum (http://usScouts.org/discuss/messages/2/1880.html), but can you give me an “official” answer? (Greg Aker, Northern New Jersey Council)
Let’s first agree that the Outdoor Activity Award is in the “optional” category, as are all of the Sports and Academics awards. None of these is a direct or fundamental part of the advancement program for Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, or Webelos Scouts. One essential requirement for the OAA regardless of rank is, as you’ve stated, to attend a program-appropriate day or resident camp. Consequently, as you’ve noted, if a boy becomes a Tiger Cub in September, and Cub Scout day camp or resident camp for the summer immediately past has concluded, then the OAA would not be earned until the following summer. The same would hold true for any boy, joining at any level, in September. While this might be disappointing to some, it’s hardly of major proportion in light of all the other advancement options open to boys throughout the Cub Scouting continuum.
I’m a Webelos Scout Mom, and I’m looking for some ideas for a wood project. (Maria Martinez, Dallas, TX)
Your son’s Wolf and Bear Cub Scout books contain a whole bunch of wood projects. So does the Cub Scout Leader How-To Book. Or, just go to your local Michael’s, Rag Shop, or A.C. Moore store—They have lots of wood project stuff!
Which night of the week is the best night for a troop meeting? Do you know if there are any nationwide stats on this topic available from the national office—for instance, do more troops have their meetings on Wednesday or Thursday than any other night? This question is raised because a few families in our troop want to change from our current night (Sunday) to a night during the regular work- and school-week. It’s unlikely that we’ll make any changes until we’ve thought through the ramifications of moving to a week night and the attendant impact on the Scouts, many whom have a variety of week night obligations. We’ve always strived to do what’s best for the greatest portion of our membership base. (Tom McCandless, SM, Westchester-Putnam Council, NY)
In my own personal experience as a Commissioner for coming up on 20 years, I’ve seen that Sunday night is a terrific night for Scout meetings! I’ve seen several troops of significant size do this and maintain their growth and program delivery very successfully. There are no “national statistics” of course, because every locale will have its own uniqueness. But, let’s think about it: Sunday has no “pop tests” the next day, homework should be totally completed, it’s not a “date night,” not a sports night (not even practices!), and it’s rarely if ever a “movie night” for boys and young men of Scout age; it doesn’t conflict with many if any religious observances (LDS is an obvious exception), and it’s rarely if ever a “conflict of events night” for your sponsor. Moreover, it’s not a night that Mom or Dad can’t drive their son to a troop meeting and stick around! Can you think of any other night in a week that has so many “not’s”?
A reasonably decent—but definitely not “clear”—alternative to Sunday nights is Monday, and often Tuesday, but there will be problems, that I can guarantee! If Sunday night is working or mostly working, stick with it! If some families have a major problem, they always have the option of finding a troop for their son that meets on some other night, and they should consider this option before trying to mess with something that works!
I’m in my sixth year as Scoutmaster of my troop. We’ve done well, and have around 25 active Scouts. We normally have four patrols. I make a point of reading the Scoutmaster Handbook every year or so, and I don’t recall seeing any specific rules or directives regarding troop elections. We probably do this differently from every troop in the country, so bear with me as I explain it…
First, our SPL is elected in January for a one-year term. He uses his first six months to learn, then goes to NYLT on a 75% campership), and then he returns to complete his final six months. This way, he gets a chance to run things, then gets training, then applies that training. This has been tried exactly once, and so far, so good.
Patrol Leaders, on the other hand, are elected every six months, and those Scouts who are eligible are asked to do a quick “Why I should be a Patrol Leader” speech if they want. Then the troop as a whole votes for any or all of those eligible. For example, we have Tom, Pete, and Harry who are eligible. Scout Johnny can vote for Tom and Pete, because he thinks they’d be good PL’s, or he would like to be in a patrol led by Pete.
If we have, let’s say, five Scouts running for three PL slots, the three with the most overall votes get the three slots. (Note that we haven’t assigned Scouts to patrols yet.)
So I have an SPL (who chooses his ASPL), and three PLs.
Let me digress for a moment… When you join a group, you want to be with your friends, right? And I’m sure you’ve seen troops where they split up friends intentionally into different patrols. Then, during meetings, the friends abandon their patrols to hang. Or, on campouts, they tent together even though they should be with their patrols. My intent here is to avoid that problem.
So, after the SPL and PLs are elected, I make up a form that lists the names of the PLs and gives the Scouts three choices: (1) Put me in Pete’s patrol, (2) Put me with my friend Harry, (3) I don’t care which patrol I’m in. I use this information to create the patrols. Harry goes to Pete’s patrol, Billy goes with him, because that’s what he wanted, and Tim didn’t care, so he goes over to Jake’s patrol.
I’ve been doing it this way for about four years, and it’s been surprising how easy it is to create the patrols. Most guys know who they want to be with, and that’s fine with me.
What do you think? (Ben Dibble, Daniel Webster Council, NH)
I’m OK on the SPL election and his picking his ASPL. But I don’t understand why you keep reshuffling the Scouts into different patrols every six months or so. The patrol is, after all, the fundamental and essential unit of Boy Scouting. It would therefore make sense for patrols, once formed, to stay together. Don’t you remember your Wood Badge training? Didn’t you all stay together in the same patrols for the course’s entire duration? No one reshuffled you, and no one asked you to reshuffle yourselves! And, didn’t you elect Patrol Leaders from within each patrol? Do you know why it was done that way? It was done because that’s how Boy Scout troops and patrols work! So, my own bottom line is that you’ve taken it upon yourself to “reinvent” the Boy Scout program. Yes, you may find that what you’ve done works—for you. But that doesn’t make it correct. And it sure doesn’t make it the Boy Scout program that you’re supposed to be delivering. I urge you to consider what you learned in Wood Badge and put it into practice. The patrol method, as written, isn’t some mere suggestion; it’s the way things are supposed to be done. And, as far as how elections are supposed to happen at the troop level and at the patrol level, you may want to take a crack at reading the Boy Scout Handbook.
My troop committee is considering possibly establishing a ”scholarship to camp” program for our troop, to enable some Scouts from less well-off families to go to summer camp. We welcome any suggestions how to best implement such a program. (Rolland Pfund, CC, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)
My hat’s off to your troop for considering a “campership” program—That’s a wonderful way to share the Scouting experience! So here’s a question for this columns readers:
Scouters, please write to me with any suggestions for this troop on how to implement a troop-specific “campership” financial aid program. I’ll publish your suggestions in my very next column!
Meanwhile, there’s an excellent chance that your own council has a campership program in place and it’s probably administered by either the camping committee or perhaps the finance committee. You may want to reach out to one or both of these, to see what sorts of guidelines/criteria/documentation they use—no sense reinventing the wheel if you don’t have to! Of course, you don’t have to match the council plan, lock-stock-and-barrel—You can develop your own model based on what you learn from others who have already traveled that path.
We have a nice troop with a fun and growing youth leadership program. All of our Scouts are 14 years old, or younger. We’re getting closer to achieving boy-run status and want to maintain a positive model for our Scouts. We need some help with two of our leaders, who happen to be husband and wife. It seems that they usually end up yelling, as their way to correct behavior or to motivate action. They’re an integral part of the troop and I believe that they just don’t know any better. However, it’s critical to correct this issue for the sake of the Scouts and troop. What’s the best way to approach them about their inappropriate methods and where can we find help for them? Our troop would be willing to help them improve. (No name in Pennsylvania)
Have the two folks you’re describing attended training for their positions? Do they know that, unless they’re either the Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmaster, they have absolutely no business at all interacting with the Scouts? Get them to training, but in the meanwhile get them away from the Scouts immediately—and don’t walk small around this: You have a responsibility to the Scouts to protect them from inappropriate behavior like this.
On another aspect, what’s this stuff about “getting close” to having a boy-run troop? You either do or your don’t. If you do, you’re delivering the Boy Scout program as intended. If you don’t, it’s not Boy Scouts. Period.
If an adult Scout leader has multiple positions, including both troop and district levels, what color shoulder loops should be worn, and which patch should be on the uniform sleeve? (Beth Williams, District Commissioner, Alabama-Florida Council)
The key is what you’re representing at the time you’re in uniform. If you’re in uniform while serving a troop, then you wear the badge of office and shoulder loops matching that role. If you’re representing your district, as a Commissioner, then you’re wearing the badge of office and shoulder loops corresponding to that position. If you’re wearing both hats, then you definitely need two shirts, so that you don’t confuse people (or yourself!).
I have a Scout who has a history of cardiac and renal conditions, including open-heart surgery, and he’s taking medication for hypertension, congestive heart failure, and kidney problems. His parents tell us that their son can’t be involved with contact sports or exercise to exhaustion. His dad was at first not going to have his son join Scouts, but I told him that we’ll make it possible and he should give it a try. For advancement, there are a few physically demanding requirements that his dad said his son just couldn’t do, and he wouldn’t be able to do any camping trips or hikes. (I’m sure we can get him on an “easy trip.”) I’m wondering if this Scout would be eligible for the alternative rank requirements. (Rick Jurgens, SM, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)
Congratulations to you and your troop for opening your doors and your hearts to a boy who otherwise might not have been able to share the Scouting experience! I also congratulate his dad and mom for being willing to make this happen for their son!
Yes, alternate requirements are where you want to go. Start by getting a letter from the young man’s licensed health care professional, then go to “Alternate Requirements” in the BSA book, Boy Scout Requirements. As you develop alternate requirements, make this a collaborative effort between yourself and your troop’s advancement chair, for sure this Scout’s parents, plus any outside resource available to your troop who has advancement procedures knowledge and experience! When you’ve assembled an alternate program, you’ll want to present it to your district’s or your council’s advancement committee. Yes, it’s extra work for you and a bunch of other folks, too, but you’re doing a fine thing for a brave young man!
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote to you asking what to do about an Eagle candidate who’d asked me via his new Scoutmaster to write a recommendation, and I was concerned that his new Scoutmaster was doing more “assisting” than was appropriate in my book). Well I did write the recommendation, he had a successful board of review, and he’s now getting ready to go off to college! I want to thank you for your sound advice. Writing the recommendation for him not only helped the Scout, but also seems to have helped mend some fences over here in Berlin! So, even from thousands of miles away, your column is making a positive impact on Scouting and Scouts! Thanks!
On a different subject, I’m wondering if I might “borrow” your “Happy Scouting!” sign-off, if you don’t mind. I believe that as Scoutmaster, one of my primary jobs is to remind everyone to be positive and to enjoy Scouting, and “Happy Scouting” would be a great way to do that! (Coleman Cain, Transatlantic Council, Berlin, Germany)
I’m honored that you’d want to borrow “Happy Scouting.” I encourage you and anyone else who’d like to, to go right ahead – If we all believed in HAPPY Scouting, I’m sure we can continue to make this world a better place! So…
Have a question? Idea? Suggestion? Thought? Something that works? Just write to me at AskAndyBSA@yahoo.com. (Please include your COUNCIL or your TOWN & STATE)
(November 12, 2007 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2007)