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Philmont Twelve Days of Christmas

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Great story, Steve!


I spent July 25, 1986 ("Christmas in July") at Ute Meadows Camp. It was 90 degrees that day, and the water froze in our bottles that night. Another crew member was a minister in training, and he held a Christmas service around the fire, complete with carols. (The guy trekked with a full-size guitar!) It was even a white Christmas: the next day, we saw snow in the distance on Wheeler Peak!


Philmont is full of great memories....

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Here's one version of Thorns and Roses courtesy of the BSA Long Peaks Council:


Thorns and Roses - an evaluation technique for bettering group relations.


Introduction. While many Scout Troops/Venture Groups either attend National High Adventure Bases, or conduct their own long-term adventures (6 nights or more), and almost all scouts have a fantastic time on the trips, once in a while a dark cloud can occur to spoil the trip for one or more of the participants. The dark cloud is typically a personality problem or clash between two or more scouts and/or scout and leader. If there is potential for this to happen, we must have "bomb-proof" techniques for prevention. A cure on the trail is much harder than the prevention. Philmont Scout Ranch has about 20 to 25 crews arriving and departing daily all Summer long to spend 10 nights in the beautiful New Mexico mountain backcountry. Over the years they have experimented with training and programs to help the adult advisors insure that the crews will have a super time, become a smoothly functioning crew, and everyone go home happy and enriched. All troops must have the same goals for their adventure program. The "Thorns" are the bad experiences that happen daily, and the "Roses" are the good experiences. The Thorns & Roses evaluation procedure was taught to each crew at Philmont in 1998.


The Process. The best way for a crew to become a friendly, help-each-other, team is for everyone to learn about each other. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and these will become evident and exposed through open discussions and communications on a regular basis during the trip. The Philmont Trail Crew Guide Book states:


"The Thorns and Roses program is an excellent way to have each person learn about the others. Each evening or night after dinner and before everyone retires for the night, make sure the entire crew debriefs the days events. During the session it is important to always end the day positively. If there are any problems within the group this is an opportunity to bring them out at this time. Make it known from the start that this time is neutral time. Be creative; ask thought-provoking questions, this is the time when questions about anything can be answered. It is essential that everyone work out his problems here. Otherwise tensions may emerge the next day on the trail. Make this serious and take this time serious from the start. Encourage meaningful dialog.


Keep in mind that your crew consists of several different personalities. We want everyone to learn and grow. At times it may be hard getting people to talk at all. Be tactful; lead your discussions if you need to at first. Never belittle anyone or everyone."


Practical Details. The entire group should sit in a circle facing each other, with no one in the background. Adult advisors should spread out in the circle, and not bunch together. This will be each person's opportunity to vent their frustrations, and they will be allowed to speak freely and uninterrupted. The emphasis should be to balance any bad with some good. After each person presents his "thorn" (if any) and "rose", he may also present a "rose bud". The "bud" is a goal, thought, or desire of the individual of something that he would like to accomplish. It could be for the next day, anytime during the trip, or long term, and one that he feels like sharing with the others. Examples could be to catch his first trout on his new pole tomorrow, or earn Star by the next Court of Honor, etc. One of the leaders (boy crew leader or adult) starts the Thorns and Roses discussion, and each person gets a chance as the turn passes around the circle. This is not a gripe session, and you only go around the circle once. The Philmont Chaplain said you always close on a positive note and may follow this session with a SM minute or spiritual thought. It seems that sometimes there might have to be a short group interaction/plan after the once around thoughts, (or even following an individual's contribution) in order to be sure the "air" is cleared, and the discussion is indeed positive. Our crew of Boulder and SW Florida scouts used this almost every night at Philmont (August '98) with our diverse crew of individuals who barely knew one another at the start of the trip. We had a great time, and no real problems. I suspect we could have had some problems if we had not had the open discussions daily.


The Challenge. Having been on adventures with middle school and high school scouts for over 30 years, I have seen first hand or heard from other crew advisors three specific types of problems that develop on one week to two week trips. They are:


--The others single out an individual youth as a "goat" of the crew.

--Two separate "clicks" or factions develop in the crew, which splits the team.

--An advisor tries to assume the role of a dictatorial leader and takes the boy leader's job.


Your job as a Trained Scout Leader is to prevent any of these problems from developing. An ounce of prevention is worth more than pound of cure. Here are my suggestions for building a great team:


1. Use Thorns and Roses daily. (It may be advisable for the adults to meet separately before the crew gets together to air their thoughts to each other privately.)


2. Avoid a one-boy tent, and never have more than 3 scouts per tent. Two scouts are ideal. Rotate boy tent partners daily. Have them work out a rotation in which each scout is with every other scout. Let them sleep with their buddy the first night. Normally sleep adults together (and separate from scouts, even parent-son).


3. Involve the group in other discussions, perhaps before the Thorns & Roses, such as-


--Why are you here, really?

--What have you learned so far?

--Who wants to go to college & why? (What's the real purpose of higher education?)

--Who wants to be an Eagle Scout and why?

--What really is an Eagle Scout?

--What is a team? Define: coach, captain, & player's jobs.

--What is a leader, explain?

--Is your only limit your imagination?

--What's all the fuss about organic food, additives, & nutritional supplements? (Are we what we eat? Junk food = ?)

--Who are you, and why are you here on earth?

--Etc and many more.


4. Train the scouts in skills, and leadership, then back off and let them do it!


5. Remember that adventure trips are not another Summer Camp "school", they are for FUN!


Dave Wortendyke, ASM

Troop 78, Boulder, CO

Longs Peak Council, BSA



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