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How to help scout manage a very bottom-heavy troop?

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  • How to help scout manage a very bottom-heavy troop?

    I'm a committee member in a troop of (until recently) 26 active scouts. We strive to have the troop be boy-led, use the patrol method and make it their own, of course with some guidance from adults. We're in a bit of a quandry now and not sure how to help the PLC focus the troop.

    We've just had 21 new guys join the troop (19 5th graders crossing from other packs, two brand new 6th graders). While it's a blessing in some ways, we're worried about keeping it interesting for all the ages- while getting the new guys all in and settled.

    In the past- we have had only 6-8 new scouts this time of year and put them in a new scout patrol. With so many, though, we have opted to intergrate them into patrols with older scouts in an effort to make sure each new guy has contact with an older scout to "show him the way". Doing this though puts our middle school guys (who are the same age or only one year older than the new scouts) in a more responsible role than normally they'd have at that age.

    The theory's always been on skills nights/etc- the oldest scouts instruct, the middle school scouts get a good review and then the youngest scouts absorb what they can, knowing we'll revisit each skill set (orienteering, camping, first aid, etc) multiple times over the program. With so many new scouts though, it's almost like the program needs to be dumbed down (for lack of a better term) to a point where the middle school guys may just not be interested over time. We're of course also having to spend alot of energy just showing the new scouts how the boy scout program works- who the ASM are, how you get signed off on advancements, what equipment they need, etc. Understandably dry for even the second year scouts who know the drill already.

    Is there some other way to be approaching this we're not considering? (Perhaps separate older/younger scout meetings for a few weeks? I'm not sure that's going to work either.)

    Any ideas/direction welcome. The PLC will be meeting Sunday for the first time since the new guys have come over (and issues have become apparent.) They very well may have ideas as well, but looking for some been there done that sort of guidance to perhaps share with them.


  • #2
    Oh boy, the memories of having been there and done that. The situation you have is that you no longer have the troop that you had before the new scouts arrived. You have a whole new program and you need to look at it that way. You have six months to get your new guys up to speed. Your patrols cant handle all the new scouts because that demands all the patrols time. Your older scouts, I know they aren't much older, but they will burn out fast.

    Here is what we did the second time this happened, learning from the first time failure. We divided up the new scouts into three small patrols and attached two troop guides to them. We wanted two just in case one got sick or something. We then assigned another scout to be the ASPL in charge of working with the Troop Guides. His jobs were to work with the SM in developing training and activities schedule for the troop guides. And to fill in as a troop guide if needed. Turned out to be a great job actually.

    OK, got all that so far? THEN we assigned a Patrol to each NS Patrol to be the big brother patrol for the new scouts. In this way, we could still have each existing patrol camp away from the other existing patrols, but still have the a new scout patrol camp next to them to watch and learn from their big brother patrol members. Does that make sense. The NS Patrol stood in formation next to their Big Brother patrol at meetings, and stayed near them with all the activities so that they had older scout mentors to learn from, but it still gave the older scouts enough room to breath.

    Now, as you can see, everything about this approach is trying to keep the boy run concept working while still managing the huge influx of green horns. HOWEVER, this is still a lot of work for the adults. They need to watch and take up slack where the other scouts are burning out. New scouts are the most undisciplined boys in scouting. They are like herding cats and young boys without the experience of being parents need some interference. I say this with caution because the adults need to stand back as much as possible. But your situation risk loosing new scouts from the lack of fun and older scouts from the burnout.

    We used the big brother and NS Patrol method for six months, them we merged the new scouts into the patrols. It takes about six months for new scouts to learn the program. If you still have the scout after six months, you will have them for a few years. Dont keep them in new scout patrols longer than six months.

    You and your PLC might need to consider rebuilding the patrols to mix everyone evenly. Normally I dont like rebuilding patrols, but this is the one instance I think it acceptable.

    ALSO, work with the new parents. Be up front with the challenges and ask them to help you where ever you can. If they understand the chaellenges, then they will be more understanding of the chaos they see. The adults must appear that they have a plan.

    The PLC needs to see the adults working as a team with the PLC to help this work. Trust me, after a couple meeting with the new scouts, they will be open to team work with adults. But, keep the scouts incharge. Don't let the adults walk over them because the scouts will let it happen.

    Does this help? Does it make sense? It did work for us when our troop of 20 scouts received 28 new scouts. You must have a good program to draw that kind of new class. Get past summer camp and its down hill from there.



    • #3
      I'm old school so I will go against the NSP concept.

      My troop used the mixed patrol model. New scouts joined an existing patrol. Within each patrol, they would "buddy up" with another scout, could be a year older, could be 3 years older, but a scout who has a good grounding in the basic scout skills and can work with someone.

      The only time we used NSPs they were flops and the troop went back to the mixed age patrol

      Now the older scouts, usually 14 or older and had served a term or two as PL formed a separate patrol that did the teaching, ran the troop, and held troop level PORs. Back then it was called the Leadership Corps, and every now and then, about 2-3 times a year they did their own thing.


      • #4
        Thank you both. We questioned doing NSP vs mixed age ones. The biggest issue we had was by the time we had a couple guides (x 3 patrols) plus SPL and a couple patrol leaders for the middle school scouts and an SPL, we'd have pretty much exhausted our supply of older scouts. Seemed better to spread the older ones through the patrols and go from there. Not sure if that's the best route or not, but the numbers really weren't working out the other way.

        We definately need to have an adjustment on the direction the troop takes. We have been very up front with parents this is an unusually high number. (My son picked a fine time to get elected SPL!) I do worry though about throwing the second year scouts into more than they're ready for as leaders. They've gone from being the "new guys" to helping to lead skills stations in jsut a few short weeks.

        Eagle92- What are POR? (maybe that's something obvious I'm not putting together.)

        (Thank you both for your perpective!)


        • #5
          Sorry, scouting jargon. It's a habit. POR = Position of Responsibility. that the leadership a scout has, i.e. PL, ASPL, SPL, Quartermaster (QM) Librarian (Lib) Instructor (Ins), etc.

          Actually you'd be surprised at what the 2nd year folks can do. Teaching the T-2-1 first aid skills is a requirement for FA MB, and once upon a time FA MB was required for First Class. Also if you look in the older literature, and I think the Guide to Advancement (GtA or G2A) even states that teaching a skill is a good way to learn it.


          • #6
            Yah, this is a real challenge, eh? Eagledad is right, yeh have a whole new troop. Next time it's better to stop recruitin' a bit earlier .

            You'll find that there's also a "thing" that happens at around 50 scouts or so. Generally, if yeh want to keep growin' into the "mega-troop" range yeh have to substantively change your program. The SM becomes more of a manager of adult leaders and a totem, rather than the fellow who knows each boy well. Often troops that grow bigger than this start shiftin' into multiple ASPLs, and the SPL also becomes more of a manager. Yeh might decide that's not you... in which case if yeh grow much bigger you will lose boys.

            I think yeh need to listen carefully to both Eagledad and Eagle92, eh? Those are the horns of the dilemma. On the one side, yeh really need to "divide and conquer" the new bunch, and rapid integration into the patrols is the way to do that. On the other side, yeh can really burn your youth leaders out. Yeh definitely need to tone down your program expectations for a while as the new lads come up to speed. This summer is not the time for the whole troop self-guided whitewater raft trip.

            How yeh do that is up to your sense of things. Here's some ideas just in case a few seem like they'll fit.

            1) Try to do a few special things just for the older guys and the PLC guys. Somethin' that's fun without the first years, but also somethin' that helps them build their confidence and skills so that they can be more effective. A couple extra outings, a long weekend Troop Leader Training, some extra activities tacked on at the start or end of summer camp, etc.

            2) Consider whether yeh need to run some patrol outings on separate weekends. One of the things that you'll find is that your group of experienced adult leaders are also stretched by the influx. Not only are they dealin' with new boys, they're dealin' with tryin' to get new adults up to speed. It can help if for a month or two yeh take smaller groups out - maybe only a couple patrols each weekend. Keeps the chaos lower as you get the new boys up to speed, and yeh can often talk your "old hand" adults into doin' an extra weekend, which gives yeh a higher experienced adult ratio.

            3) Look for a strong summer camp that will really be a good resource partner for yeh, but lean toward returning to one that you and the older lads know your way around.

            4) Call your young college-aged alumni. Plead for help. Most get out sometime in May, and if they're back in town they're often happy to help out on a weekend or at camp.

            5) Is there another troop around that has some older boys that are compatible with your guys / your program? Call their SM. Ask for help. Active OA in your district? Ask for some help from the Brotherhood of Cheerful Service. Scoutin' is a community that's bigger than just your unit. Addin' a few more enthusiastic, cool, experienced older scouts into the mix really helps to tip the experience numbers in your favor.

            6) Remember, free play is an activity. Often it's better to let cats run around until exhausted rather than try to herd 'em. Havin' a massive group of new guys is a good time for car campin' at some interestin' spots.

            7) Spin off a new troop. Lots of times, this is the right thing to do when yeh get big. It makes both your troop and scouting as a whole stronger. Remember, ol' Baden-Powell's max troop size was 36, eh?

            8) There are other options. Many large troops move to age-based structures with high school high adventure patrols and several first year patrols and a bunch of 7th/8th grade patrols. Yeh can run that almost like 3 separate troops/programs with some independent and some overlapping activities. This is a common management structure for "mega" troops. That would involve introducin' a lot more direct adult leadership at the new scout level.

            Anyways, as yeh puzzle the whole thing out, remember that it's not about Activities. It's about Relationships. The young lads need to form relationships with each other and with the older boys and with the adults. Design things to do fun stuff together that builds those relationships. Don't spend time on doin' highfalutin' things so much as on spendin' time together.



            • #7

              The guys may have to step up to be leaders at a younger age than your troop is used to, but just look at it as an opportunity for them. They'll need more help and coaching (which is itself an opportunity for the slightly older scouts such as your son...), but they can do it. Our troop started out brand new - we had no experienced Scouts at all. We had 10 1/2 year old PLs. They really had to stretch.

              But they're doing great. Maybe schedule some extra TLT sessions, but I think your guys can do it.


              • #8
                We do a mini-NSP. Enough to get them up to speed on how the Troop does things and before Camp we parcel them out in buddy-clumps of 2-3 to the standing patrols.


                • #9
                  I like what Eagledad and Beavah are saying. We also use new Scout patrols, but they generally last a month or two -- get signed off on T'foot and you get to join a "real" patrol.
                  The newbies need some separate activities. A five mile hike with daypack including some simple fire building and a meal they (help) cook. Practice setting up a tent, identify some common plants, some kind of wide game.
                  The good ol' boys (older Scouts) who help with this qualify for a separate ol' boys canoe trip or other exclusive activity.
                  There may be two seaparate summer camps this year -- one with a decent advancement program for the new guys, and one with a more advanced program for the experienced Scouts. It would be nice if this were the same camp. Since council camps are frequently all about merit badges, this may be the time for a DIY camp.
                  After that first dayhike, start your fundraising for summer camp. Any newbie needs to be paired with an older instead of being on his own.
                  Not too soon for a community service project after the first day hike. Serve refreshments


                  • #10
                    The dynamic of the present patrols will change of course as they swell and then split into two or three. Some of the older Scouts will be the only ones initially qualified to become the PLs for the new patrols thus formed


                    • #11
                      Thanks all, this really does help. Alot of this we do already do. The May campout will be the new guys' first. It is divided up so new guys knock out alot of their basic intro stuff and the older guys go canoeing. (Then they all meet together in the evening/campout.)

                      We've also been pushing summer camp with all the new guys. (The troop traditionally has a high percentage go.) We're fortunate, I guess, that our local camp does have an advancement-based new scout program in addition to merit badge stuff for the older guys.

                      Sounds like we're heading in a right direction. Here's to hoping things settle down a bit!


                      • #12
                        It seems you have a good program lined up. The only concern I may have is that knocking out a lot of basic intro stuff means it doesn't really get learned. What can happen is the demo, followed immediately by the Scout doing it & then getting signed off on it. The skill then goes right from short-term memory straight into the ether -- little is retained.
                        We teach the skill in the morning, have a game or competition in the afternoon that uses that skill, and test the next day.


                        • #13
                          First campout goal not necessarily to get any requirements signed off (though some might). REALLY basic goals- like establishing "No, the adults are not going to set up your tent, cook your meals, or wash your dishes... welcome to the big league!"