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Issue 285 – January 8, 2012

Rule No. 50:
• Beware excess enthusiasm. It often masks incompetence.

Rule No. 51:
• It’s lonesome at the bottom, too. It’s just more crowded.

Hi Andy,

About the signature now required by the Scout himself, in his Eagle project workbook, while unfortunately it’s true that one of the main reasons the process was changed had a lot to do with misguided adult volunteers at a variety of levels, we also had concerns that the Scout himself needed to bear more responsibility—it is, after all, his project. One of the ways to do this was to have him sign that he had read the entire workbook (including “If you submit your proposal too close to your 18th birthday, it may not be approved in time to finish planning and executing the project”). We’re aware that reviewers were not infrequently considered “the bad guys” when the Scout jammed his project into the last week or two prior to that birthday, with little consideration on his part beyond wanting to “check the box.” So now the Scout has fair warning, and since he’s signifying that he’s read the entire workbook, this occurrence will hopefully be lessened.

By the way, your reference to “On my honor as a Scout…” on the Eagle Scout Rank Application was super. (Matt Culbertson, BSA National Advancement Task Force)

Hi Andy,

I don’t think that your answer about Patrol Leaders Council (“PLC”) composition (Issue 284) is “wrong,” but I would have handled it differently. I would have asked the Senior Patrol Leader how the PLC meetings were going, and then asked him how he thought they could be improved. I’d have asked him some questions about effective meetings, including how many Scouts should be in a meeting like this for it to be effective. I’d then have shown him the documentation on how it should be done.

Really, the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders should be in charge of the PLC meetings. If they want to invite “ everyone with a position patch on his sleeve,” that’s OK by me—It’s up to them. But they are probably just doing it “the way we’ve always done it.” Wouldn’t it be great if they realized they have a problem and then became proactive in resolving it!
Once the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders are trained correctly, and then decide to run things correctly, they can call on the Scoutmaster to deal with any “busybodies” who want to interfere. (I really prefer that the PLC come to its own conclusions whenever possible—after appropriate training, of course.)

I realize that your answer may not have represented all that you might want to say on this subject, but it sort of sounded like the Scoutmaster should just lay down the law. Your comment about “an excellent opportunity to fix this” bothers me some, because it implies that the Scoutmaster’s job is to “fix” things, and that can be a slippery slope. (Larry Geiger, Central Florida Council)

Ultimately, the Scoutmaster is responsible for the troop’s program, as decided on by the PLC, which is in turn chaired by the SPL. In this case, the PLC was incorrectly formed and needed to be put right. Since the Senior Patrol Leader had been following the guidelines set by the prior Scoutmaster, there’s no reason to presume that the Senior Patrol Leader “knew” the difference between a correctly structured PLC and the one they had. Including every Scout with a position badge shouldn’t be “OK” with anyone, because it’s wrong and it ultimately defeats the concept of “democratic representation.”

It’s the Scoutmaster’s responsibility to train, coach, and mentor the youth leaders of the troop; therefore, the Scoutmaster needs to fix this problem. How he goes about fixing it with the Scouts is up to him (notice I left that door open), but he needs to make sure he has committee support before he does this, because the committee’s been around longer than he has and there can sometimes be difficulties when “the new guy” moves forward without their buy-in. No, he doesn’t need their “permission,” but the wise Scoutmaster will always keep the troop committee informed—and on his side.

As for “laying down the law,” that’s not what’s involved here. What’s involved is getting it right. The Scoutmaster’s no despot, but he’s definitely responsible for assuring that the Boy Scout program is delivered as written and not by arbitrary whim.
The Scoutmaster’s job isn’t to “fix things” if they don’t need fixing, but he’s definitely responsible for helping the Scouts trim the sails properly so that they aim at Scouting’s True North.

Dear Andy,

Can a troop send its own patrol to a National Jamboree, or do we have to go through our council? (Josef Rosenfeld)

Scouts participate in National Jamborees as members of specially configured, council-sponsored Jamboree troops. In configuring their Jamboree troops, most all councils will purposely divide up Scouts from the same home troop and assign them to different patrols within the Jamboree troop. The purpose of this is to broaden each Scout’s view of the world and family of Scouting. In my experience, it would be highly unusual for an intact patrol from a single troop to be kept intact as members of a council-sponsored Jamboree troop.

Thanks. Members of our troop committee thought we may be able to field a patrol ourselves and avoid the council markup on the cost of the Jamboree. (JR)

Having staffed a Jamboree troop, I can tell you with a fair amount of accuracy that “markup” may be a bit misleading… The difference between the actual Jamboree fee and a council’s price-per-Scout includes lots of things we don’t necessarily think about: Patrol and troop tentage and equipment, troop gateway materiel, Jamboree CSPs and neckerchiefs (and sometimes uniforming), travel and accommodations, food while traveling, pre- or post-Jamboree touring, and a host of other items. Any additional funding to cover professional and administrative staff time in managing a mountain of paperwork and logistics is usually the very smallest line item in the overall budget. Also, don’t for a minute think that the adult leadership goes for free—everybody pays their fair share! So do plan on sending your Scouts for a once-in-a-lifetime experience! And thank your lucky stars that all of the logistics are handled by competent folks, taking a huge burden off any troop committee that naively thinks they can do this all by themselves!

Hey Andy,

I have so many questions, but I’ll try to whittle it down to the main ones… Four years ago I helped start a Cub Scout pack in our area. Now our boys are moving up to Boy Scouts and I’m helping to start a troop. We’ll be starting with eight boys, all in the 10-11 age range.

I understand that a troop is supposed to be boy-led, but how do you work out the transition with a brand new group of 10-11 year-old boys who haven’t had much opportunity to lead before? Do I go ahead and select a Senior Patrol Leader, Patrol Leader, etc., or do I wait until they’ve had more of a chance to get used to how things work?

I also know that we don’t work on merit badges during troop meetings. So, do you work with the boys on their rank requirements in the meetings? Is there a guide to go by, like there was in Cub Scouts, to know what to do for each meeting? Related to this, since all of our boys are starting out at the same time this year, they’ll all be starting at the same spot—so what do you do the next year, when you have new boys coming in and everyone’s working on different things? How do you do the meetings then?

Is there a place that describes how a board of review is to be run, including what questions should be asked?

In Boy Scouts, are mothers allowed to be involved, like they were in when the boys were Cub Scouts (including being leaders, going on campouts, and so on)? (Jason McClure, SM-to-be, KY)

You need to immediately sign up for Scoutmaster-specific training, and take that course as soon as you possibly can. You also need to buy your own SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK right away, and start reading. At the same time, buy at least one of the three volumes of TROOP PROGRAM FEATURES (about $8 each). Next, find out when your district holds Roundtables for Boy Scout leaders and start attending, along with your new troop’s Committee Chair.

With eight new Scouts, one will be elected Senior Patrol Leader and this is the Scout whom you’ll be coaching the most. The remaining seven Scouts will form themselves into two patrols—allow the Scouts themselves to decide how they’re going to divide up—one of four Scouts and the other of three (definitely do not try to create a single patrol!). Once the boys have created their two patrols, they elect their own Patrol Leaders, and this is the second tier of Scouts whom you’ll be coaching.

At this point, merit badges are irrelevant. Moreover, the wise Scoutmaster and Senior Patrol Leader don’t “work on requirements.” Instead, you’ll use the TROOP PROGRAM FEATURES book to design meetings and outings oriented toward learning fundamental Scout skills—keeping firmly in mind that Boy Scouting is absolutely not “Webelos 3”!
For learning skills, the very best way to do this is to “borrow” a Scout from a nearby troop (rank First Class or higher), and ask him to come to a few troop meetings to help out with skills and skill-based games—he works with your troop’s elected Senior Patrol Leader.

Do this any other way and you’ll be nothing more than a Den Leader with a different badge, and you definitely don’t want to go down that path.

Oh yeah, one more thing: Immediately start using the “Troop Meeting Plan” (find it via any search engine) for every meeting.

Get these things started and then re-contact me anytime for any other questions you’d like to ask!

On the question of boards of review, this won’t happen till one of the Scouts completes the Tenderfoot rank requirements, and that’s at least a month away from when the troop is actually formed, so let’s look at that after you’ve read the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK.

Speaking of books, I forgot to mention that everyone on your committee needs a copy of the TROOP COMMITTEE GUIDEBOOK, and everyone on the committee also needs to take training for committee members.

As for “mothers helping out,” to be real blunt now it’s time for the fathers to step up to the plate: Boys can’t get male role-modeling from women.
Finally, be sure to waste no time reaching out to your District Commissioner. Tell him or her that you’re going to need a Commissioner assigned to you who has “model Boy Scout troop” experience.

Dear Andy,

I’m a Boy Scout in a troop that’s six months old. I transferred in from another troop. I’m asking why can’t I get my merit badge that I worked for in the other troop? It was Emergency Preparedness and I earned it at the Klondike Derby. I have evidence of it, but my Scoutmaster won’t give it to me; I don’t know why. My mom called the scout office, but they side with my old Scoutmaster and don’t believe me, even though I have the evidence. Look, I’m a First Class Scout, with only about 18 months to make Eagle, and I barely have enough time the way its is. I don’t have time for another merit badge, especially if I’ve already earned it. I’m trying to be nice and do everything by the Scout book, but it’s just impossible, and I just can’t wrap my head around why someone won’t give me a merit badge that I rightfully earned, just because he wants his son to get his Eagle before me. Please tell me what to do. I’m lost and I don’t want to give up, but I just don’t know what to do. (Scout’s Name & Council Withheld)

Emergency Preparedness is a merit badge, which means you had a Merit Badge Counselor. If he or she signed your merit badge application (“blue card”) stating that you’ve completed the work required, give the “applicant’s segment” (which should be in your possession) to your new Scoutmaster and tell him that you’d like it submitted on a troop advancement report. If you don’t have your segment of the blue card, get a new one from your Scoutmaster, re-contact that Merit Badge Counselor, tell him your problem, and ask him to sign a new one for you, which you can then turn in to your Scoutmaster for credit. Your former Scoutmaster has nothing to do with this, if you indeed have the evidence you need, which is that blue card segment or a statement from the Merit Badge Counselor saying you’ve done the work.

Dear Andy,

It took about three years but we finally convinced our Scoutmaster to let us senior Scouts to start up a Venturing crew so we could do things more “high adventure” than what we usually do in our troop. I’m the president of the crew, and we have about 15 crew members. All of us are older Scouts in our troop. So here’s my question: Do we have to do just the things our Scoutmaster tells us? He won’t let us crew members meet except during troop meetings when the younger Scouts are being taught requirement stuff. We can’t take our own trips, we can only do things with the troop, like camping and hikes. We thought we’d be able to do things on our own, but that’s not how it’s happening, even though we have an advisor (he’s an Assistant Scoutmaster in the troop) and a separate committee and even a different sponsor from the troop. Now we’re wondering why we bothered with Venturing at all; it’s no different from being in the troop. (Name & Council Withheld)

So who died and left this Scoutmaster in charge of your Venturing crew? Seriously, as president of a Venturing crew you’re in charge, including the right to call for meetings any time and at any place you all choose. So meet. And with your own committee for support, just make a plan and then make it happen. If that Assistant Scoutmaster-cum-Advisor is blocking your way for whatever reason, ask your Committee Chair to replace him with someone who isn’t beholden to someone who comes across as a bit of a bully. The bottom line here is pretty simple: No one can treat you like a doormat if you don’t lie down.

Dear Andy,

In order for the National Parks Service to allow our troop to launch our canoes below Hoover Dam without using a paid outfitter, we need to provide a copy of the national BSA liability insurance policy. When I located the liability questions web page, it said, “Fill out the form below to email questions,” but there was no form or information on where to email the question to. Can you help? (Steve Roth, ASM, Orange County Council, CA)

Rather than trying to do this all by your lonesome, contact your council’s risk management committee chair and describe what you need, and why. I’m sure you’ll get the help you need. If not, then the worst-case scenario is that your troop will use an already-qualified outfitter for your put-in and take-out, which will cost a few bucks for the service and canoes, but won’t break the bank. (Yeah, did this with my own troop a bunch o’ years ago, and it’s not outrageously pricy and sure pretty convenient!)

Dear Andy,

I’m responding to Issue 281 about youth Roundtables. We’ve been holding Senior Patrol Leader Roundtable for about two years now. We’re getting about 30 percent participation from our troops, and the ones who come do so very regularly. They’ve discussed youth activities for district Camporees, and have rallied all of the district’s Senior Patrol Leaders to create and run a special event at a Camporee. The Roundtables also provide a place where Scouts from different troops can see how the other world lives. Our Senior Patrol Leader Roundtables are currently being commissioned by a recent college graduate and Eagle Scout who’s also a well-recognized summer camp staffer. The Senior Patrol Leaders are also part of the plenary Roundtable, where program and district items are presented to troops and packs together. It’s working and we have every intention of continuing these. (Brent Bomer, Erie Shores Council, NY)

THANKS! I’d love to hear from other districts and councils around the country—any place where you’re running youth Roundtables or something similar, or where you’ve done them in the past!

HappY ScOuTing!
(No. 284 – 1/8/2012 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2012)


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

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