Thursday, August 7, 2014

Hey Scoutmasters! Busy Enough?

I’m coming up on my first year as scoutmaster in the Ammon 11th Ward, and I have a question for other scoutmasters out there:

Busy enough?

I know I am.

My assistant scoutmaster and I have ten boys of varying abilities and ambitions. We have two who are only a project and a few merit badges away from their Eagle ranks. We have four who finally earned their First Class ranks at scout camp last week. We’re working on the Communication and Cycling merit badges. We have scouts whose parents are actively involved in their scouting progress – we get calls from them all the time saying “We completed this, we completed that.” We have scouts whose parents tell us, essentially, that scouting is up to us. They’ll support us by sending their boys, but as far as advancement goes, that’s our job. We take it all on because that is our job, as scouters.

They are all wonderful boys. They’re wonderfully focused given the opportunity. We recently came home from scout camp where they earned an average of four merit badges each – not a single boy came home without at least two – along with rank advancements.

We’re competing with video games. With sports – even among our youngest scouts. We’re competing with mealtimes – one scout arrives at our weekly meeting not yet having had dinner (me either, kid – I just got off the bus home from work) and food is all he wants to talk about.

Yes, we do the patrol method. Every scout has a job to do. I need to work my Senior Patrol Leader and his assistant more. But they’re both new in their jobs, and don’t yet have the ability to lead a group of distracted peers. We as leaders can barely keep their attention most nights when we’re not doing something active, from camping to cycling.

But we had the time and we had the concentrated help of others for the entire week.

And yes, there’s training out there we can do with our boy leaders.

More time, folks. More time.

Yes, I’m ranting a little bit. Yes, I can do more to communicate with scouts and parents that we need the help.

But that takes time. We are busy enough.

But everywhere I turn, we’ve got more stuff to do.

Cyber chips. Outdoor ethics and leadership awards. Now the Nova Award.

And we just got home from camp, where in addition to herding the boys through Trail to Eagle and merit badges, we’re also on the lookout to push them to earn camp awards. Which we did with most of them, thanks mostly to parents who attended scout camp with us and worked with the boys and to troop friends who spent extra time with us to work through the requirements.

And this is in addition to winning recognition as an honor troop and bringing home the spirit stick.

We’re alive alert awake enthusiastic, as the song goes.

But Enough, Boy Scouts of America. Enough already.

(One more thing: I’m not only overprogrammed, I’m overcharged. I seriously have to buy the Cyber Chip green cards, at 19 cents a pop? I know that’s a paltry $1.90 for my ten scouts. But a paltry here and a paltry there add up. You want us to go through the program? Provide the materials at no cost. Put them on your website and let us print them out for signing. Maybe this is your way to keep scouts trustworthy, so they won’t print and sign one themselves. Well, trustworthy happens to be part of the Scout Law. We’ve got that covered. Our chartered organization allows us one fundraiser a year, and that’s dedicated to getting our boys to scout camp, in addition to what the parents pay to get their boys there. I’ve also got a lot of worn equipment I need to replace. I’m picking up pennies off the sidewalk here.)

Yes, I have studied the programs. I appreciate what the BSA is trying to do with these additional awards – from teaching the scouts about the uses and dangers of the Internet to rewarding them for taking on more STEM-oriented advancements. I know how they dovetail (mostly) with stuff we’re already doing. And there’s plenty of cheerleading going on.

But where does it stop?

We’re working to get parents involved – we have a group of boys who need to finish their work on the Archery merit badge, started at camp, and we have two fathers who have skills in that area. 

They’ll be recruited. Maybe. But nobody told me when I became scoutmaster that I’d have to do so much schmoozing and cajoling of adults, let alone what we do with the scouts themselves.

This is all baby steps, as is necessary. Meanwhile, the programs and advancements are coming at us to the point we feel like a soup cracker in a sandblaster. So things get set aside. I’ll concentrate on the Trail to Eagle, those merit badges, and work in the other stuff as we have time.

And, yes, I’ve been to Wood Badge. I’ve had two boys go through Cedar Badge this summer. Two boys join Order of the Arrow (though I hear from a father that the local OA group isn’t all that active). We’re working on the leadership training. Along with everything else.

As we have time.

I work full time. I teach part-time. Already I’ve got two weekends this month committed to scouting to meet commitments on previous advancement work and to attend a merit badge pow-wow to work on more.

But that’s after only not quite a year. Hopefully, after another year passes, I’ll have made more progress.

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