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Issue 482 – April 7, 2016

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Dear Andy –

My grandson has just completed his Eagle project and wants to place a commemorative sign at the location. When my two previous grandsons were completing their Eagle projects, I remember seeing Scout signs for this purpose; however, we can’t seem to locate them on the Scouting.org website. Your assistance in locating this information so we may order the sign would be greatly appreciated. (Scout Grandfather)

The good news is that this is easy… All your grandson needs do is use any search engine for “eagle project plaque” and then select what he’d like! (BTW, there’s no “rule” or “requirement” that says it must be an “Official BSA” plaque!)
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Dear Andy,

You have done nothing but guide me well and made my troop better and hoping your insight and contacts can shed some light on this… This year, our troop committee is insisting on having the ability to disapprove or change calendar items our Patrol Leaders Council, led by our Senior Patrol Leader, has decided on. In effect, the committee wants to be a part of the decision-making process, rather than leaving this solely to the SPL and Patrol Leaders. It’s not unusual for our troop to want to have several events in a single month, like a backpacking trip, a camping trip, and a service project all in the same month. The committee thinks this is too much for the scouts. For the past five years I’ve been advising the committee and parents that the Scouts are the decision-makers because it’s their troop, not ours, and up till now they’ve stayed “hands-off.” But this year the committee is claiming that this is their ultimate decision, and they’re invoking a BSA statement that says the PLC/Senior Patrol Leader is to “go to the troop committee for final approval,” which they interpret to mean that, in addition to “approving,” the committee can “disapprove” as well.

I explained this rule as: If done correctly, this is a formality, and it’s not to disapprove what the Scouts want to do, and that if the committee sees a need—for reasons of safety or health—to make a revision, that’s okay but it should be an open conversation with the Senior Patrol Leader and not a blanket rejection of the idea.

So is there any “formal” logic or explanation of what “approval” means in this context?

Here are the steps our PLC and Scouts go through…

First, they get all dates and times of other events from organizations the troop is involved in, including our sponsor, our local Cub Scout pack, and various other local organizations

Next, the Senior Patrol Leader asks the Patrol Leaders to poll their members (and their parents) for other dates that might need to be considered. He also asks the committee about any pre-scheduled board of review nights.

Then, at our monthly Patrol Leaders Council meeting, the Senior Patrol Leader gets input from our Patrol Leaders about what they’ve liked (and want to do again) or not liked (and should be dropped).

The next PLC meeting is for planning, and takes several hours (and several pizzas!). This is where all gathered information is put onto flip charts and all kinds of monthly and annual decisions are made and voted on by the Patrol Leaders. (As Scoutmaster, I’m there, but only in an advisory capacity; I don’t participate in decisions. If any parents are there, they, like me, don’t actively participate.)

At the next troop meeting following the PLC, they go over the calendar with all the Scouts, for a troop vote (if they do not like something then an alternative is provided and voted on).

As soon as that troop meeting is over, the Senior Patrol Leader and I meet with the committee, and the SPL presents the whole calendar to the committee so that logistics can be discussed. The process is completed when the final calendar is sent out to the entire troop.

What do you think, Andy? Are we making mistakes somewhere? (Tom, SM)

Except for how the committee is presently responding, one couldn’t ask for better performance by the SPL and the Patrol Leaders Council, and their Scoutmaster. If every troop operated this way (except for the committee), we’d have pretty near perfect Scouting programs across America!

The committee’s role is to provide feedback for the PLC to consider, just as you’ve described. Its role is absolutely not to block or in any way discourage the Scouts and their PLC from setting high-level, involving programs of activities–the committee’s sole responsibility in this area is to support the PLC’s plans and provide the necessary underpinning for success. The committee is definitely not “judge-and-jury” on such matters as troop program. You, as Scoutmaster, are the advocate for the Scouts, SPL, and PLC, and if you’ve already counseled the PLC, then your sole remaining responsibility is to present this to the committee so they know what’s coming up for them to support. Parenthetically, having the SPL at your side at committee meetings, to share in the presentation, is a good idea because it gives this Scout the opportunity to communicate in a dialogue with knowledgeable adults.

I’m sure the committee members mean well and have the interests of the Scouts at heart. What they need to learn to do is recognize that “the troop” ultimately “belongs” to the Scouts themselves and that their responsibility, as the committee for the troop, is to support these self-directed young men.

Yes, all of this is in the BSA literature and certainly in position-specific training courses (meaning that this isn’t just my “opinion”—it’s how the BSA states troops are supposed to be run!). So all these men and women need do is follow the program as the BSA has intended for them to. The fundamental principle is this: Never do for Scouts what they can do for themselves. In this regard, it appears that these Scouts are very capable of “doing for themselves” and simply need positive reinforcement and support.

Yes, there can be issues of health and safety. In these instances, the committee makes recommendations to the PLC and the PLC adjusts their plans–the details of their plans, that is—so that health and safety standards set by the BSA are taken into account. But that’s all. Committees are definitely not charged with responsibility for “approving” or “not approving” what the Scouts have come up with on their own.

Thanks for asking a critical question—maybe one of the most important questions in all of Scouting!
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Hi Andy,

I have a question on behalf of my son, who is struggling to find an Eagle Project. He’s been searching for a project for nearly a full year. So far, he’s had two possibilities, but our troop’s Eagle Advisor told him these weren’t “sufficient.” Everyone keeps telling him that “projects are everywhere,” but they just don’t seem to be. And our troop’s adults and Eagle Advisor haven’t come up with any suggestions for my son to pursue, either.

One possible project involved building benches, but mostly the story is always the same: The project isn’t “big enough” to require the leadership of at least three or four Scouts to assist. At a large wildlife area close by, the manager there told my son that they’ve had so many Scout projects done that he’s run out of ideas.

Can you give any ideas on how to find a qualifying Eagle project? Even though our son continues to search, he’s just hitting stone walls or coming up with nothing. (Scout Dad)

Let’s do a brief review of something really important for your son: Eagle service projects absolutely don’t require “building something”! That key point understood and agreed upon, let’s start over…

What does your son like to do? What sorts of service projects that he’s participated in, in the past, has he enjoyed? What are his interests? What sort of project would bring him personal joy?

I’ve seen a Life Scout who was into music assemble a band and rehearse them on a performance for shut-in seniors, and another who led a performance at a VA hospital. I know of a Scout who wrote a script for a short play, assembled a cast, and presented it at a similar venue. Another Scout put together a crew of skilled fellow computer whizzes and created a LAN system for a computer lab at a school for intellectually challenged students (the school purchased the computers; he and his crew connected them all and installed the software). And the list goes on…

Is your son a church-goer? Has he spoken with the clergy there about what could be done for them? How about his school? What do they need? Has he checked “eagle projects” online and spotted something that he’d consider fun to do with his friends (who don’t have to only be Scouts, by the way)? Has he spoken with the mayor of the town? Or the local volunteer rescue squad? Would he like to do a “book drive” for an inner-city school library or other inner-city organization? How about sports? Would he enjoy organizing a sports activity for underprivileged kids? Or organize a sports equipment and uniform drive for same?

In short, there are lots of opportunities “out there” if he starts thinking about his own interests and then builds a project idea around something he’d enjoy doing!
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Dear Andy,

Recently my daughter interviewed her grandfather for a class project. One of the questions she asked was what his biggest regret was. My husband and I were surprised by the answer. We’d never known this story:

“I was a Boy Scout and did very well and achieved many awards. I reached the rank of Life Scout, the rank just below Eagle… I had more than enough merit badges to become Eagle, but lacked ‘Bird Study’ merit badge. I could just never settle down and identify the 40 species of birds necessary for that badge, and dropped out of Scouts before earning the Eagle Scout rank.”

So my question to you is this: My father-in-law (who went on to serve in the Coast Guard for 26 years, retiring as a Captain) will be turning 80 very soon. I’d love to see him get his Eagle badge. Is it too late? Does Scouting still have the Bird Study merit badge? Are there records of badges earned (as I doubt he still has his)? I completely understand if this isn’t possible but I wanted to give it a shot. (Elena Sullivan)

My answer’s not an “official” one, although it’s a pretty well-educated one… Your daughter’s grandfather is indeed a Life Scout and he should be very proud of that accomplishment. Yes, when he was a Scout, Bird Study was indeed a required merit badge. Not having completed it did mean he’d be a Life Scout. There were others that were, at that time, “stumbling blocks” too, like Lifesaving, Pathfinding, Athletics and Physical Development. The fact that he completed these is quite exceptional. The tough part is that he “dropped out” when he might have stuck with it a bit longer; but that’s no discredit to him. His Life rank still stands, and, if we draw an analogy from the USCG, there’s no embarrassment or regret in retiring as a Captain and not a Rear Admiral!

Happy Scouting!

Andy

Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to askandybsa@yahoo.com. Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 482 – 4/7/2016 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2016]

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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.

Read Andy's full biography

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