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Patrols grouped by age - Pros/Cons

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Greetings, Scouters!


I'm seeking some insight and stumbled onto this site -- most excellent!


My son is in a large Troop (120+) that starts the guys out in "Green Patrols", which is OK for a starter, but they keep them together in these patrols forever. I'm concerned about the wisdom of this and it's affect on the basics of leadership, starting at the Patrol level.


Although my 15-yr old son is relatively content, the same-age patrols really do not function well at all, in spite of a weekend JLT at the start of every 6-month term. I know he could benefit more from the scouting program and I'm distressed that he's well on the way to Eagle without really understanding the basics of real leadership, as opposed to same-age coordinator.


Adult leadership says the boys are all more likely to become friends and stay with the program if they're all grouped together by age. I counter that the Patrol Leader is merely a coordinator since he doesn't have any more experience than any of the rest of the boys. PL has zero responsibility for advancement of the members in his patrol. In fact, even if PL happens to have advanced quickly to Star and one of his boys is lagging below 1st Class, the PL is not authorized to sign off on any of his requirements.


It seems to me that the Troop is missing out on some of the fundamentals of leadership at the beginning level. And it shows through the weak performance we have had with leaders at the SPL level. We say the Patrols and Patrol Method are the backbone of the Troop, but the leadership experience as a Patrol Leader/coordinator apparently doesnt come close to preparing guys to exercise leadership over a large troop comprised of a wide-range of ages. The dynamics are just too different.


In addition, the younger patrols flounder without internal expertise in basic scouting skills. We have Instructors to assist the patrols and Patrol Leaders, but this seems to make the PLs job harder when older boys have to keep stepping in to keep them on track.


I am aware that our situation with same-age patrols is not unique -- that this model has been accepted at the National level. Has anybody seen this method work well? Any ideas how to fix current system? Or any ideas how to demonstrate to a bunch of well-meaning, but overworked (of course), adult leaders that the natural Patrol Method is the time-tested best?


Any comments/suggestions welcomed either here, or directly to my email: mikemel@airmail.net.




Yours in Scouting,


Mike F


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OK, a couple of suggestions.


First of all, troop guides. Older scouts that help younger ones in the patrol setting. They explain and help the patrol leader assert himself. They shouldn't "take over," just help out and be more of a mentor for the patrol leader.


Secondly, maybe you don't want to have patrols of the exact same age, but something close to it. If patrols consist of all different levels, the older scouts will control while the younger scouts are shut out. Try mixing up maybe two years of scouts. Six and seventh graders, eighth and ninth, tenth on up, etc. Move the scouts up when they change due to age, and make it a ceremonious occasion. That way, when the younger scouts enter their patrol, there will be existing leadership from the year prior, there will be a mystique about the patrol leader, and they won't feel alienated.


Just a couple of thoughts.

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Thanks for suggestions, slontwovvy! Please keep 'em coming, folks!!


I was inactive in Boy Scouts for about 11 years. (Wife made me quit ASM job when second child, now the Boy Scout, was born... Couldn't wait to move up and get started again!) This same-age patrol concept wasn't around, or at least very common, then. Where did it come from? (Or should I start another thread??)



mike f

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Hi mike, as a brief explaination of how the New Scout Patrol is supposed to work I explain how my son's troop uses it. We have two New Scout Patrols, I am the Assistant Scoutmaster assigned to the two patrols. We use the First Class Emphasis program which is a blueprint to give the New Scouts the activity and training needed to complete first class first year. Each Patrol has an older experienced scout as a Troop Guide. The troop guides and I plan the programs for these two patrols. Some of there activities involve thenm with the regular patrols and some are independent of the rest of the troop.


The New Scouts are all the same age within a few months. they selected who they wanted to be in their patrol and we were able to honor most of the requests. Each patrol selected a patrol name and elected their patrol leader for the first 30-days. That patrol leader selected an Assistant Patrol Leader who will be the Patrol Leader 30-days from now and choose a new APL etc. etc.


The Patrol Leader works side by side with the Troop Guide for a month and participates in a Patrol Leaders Council, to get a taste of a Regular Patrol Leaders job.


Their skill training is done by other older scouts called Instructors. Each instructor has their own area of specialty that they teach.


It is explained to the New Souts at the outset that when they reach First Class they can stay in their existing patrol or choose to join a Regular Patrol. One way or another, after everyone reaches First Class they are treated to the same program as the Regular Patrols and we start work on the next New Scout Patrol.


The regular patrols elect leaders for 6-months and the patrol Leaders Council determines their program.


The BSA has determined that New Scouts are often not physically, emotionally or socially ready to be incorporated fully with the older scouts. The New Scout Patrol program gives them a year's cushion to develop their skills and comfort level as well as gain size and maturity to better socialize with the older scouts.


We have found this to be very effective and as a Troop Leader I have used this method for almost 20-years.


I hope this helps,

Bob White

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I find Bob White's post interesting for several reasons.


First of all the idea of a "new boy patrol" as promoted by National is about ten or eleven years old. I have not been a fan of this concept. It is very difficult to get the boys to transition into regular patrols. You can end up with the kind of situation Mike F described.


On the other hand Bob White's unit seems to have found a way to make it work. Power to them.


Bob also made a comment that is very telling.


"The BSA has determined that New Scouts are often not physically, emotionally or socially ready to be incorporated fully with the older scouts." (hope I got that right)


The push to bring boys in at younger ages contributes to this problem. I don't know why BSA has done this. I suppose it has been done to compete with other youth activities, but it makes troop management very difficult. In one unit that I was involved with in Southern California we did not have new boy patrols but we did have about four new boy events during the year. I thought that this was a pretty good compromise to achieve better integration and provide some appropriate new boy activities at the same time.


Mike F, your troop sounds monstrously large. I am surprised that the local powers that be allowed that to happen.

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Eisely Is over generous in saying I found a way to make things works. It's not anything I discovered. Manys troops use the New Patrol program. As far as integration it really doesn't matter if the patrols are mixed age or not, as long as the boys are in a group they enjoy.


In grade school and early high school my circle of friends were guys my own age. by the time I was 16 or 17 my circle had widened to include people older and younger that me.


By starting the scouts in a New Patrol, then letting them stay together or mix on an individual basis, then patrols socializing during activities, and finally forming Venture patrols as they get to late teens, the scouts get the opportunity to develop in a natural progression.


As I say the BSA has put alot of research into the program and I find it very effective.


Bob(This message has been edited by Bob White)(This message has been edited by Bob White)

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In my Troop, we integrate the new Scouts into existing patrols. Like eisley, we have never found a way to get the New Patrol method to work. We have found the new Scouts learn more from the older Scouts in their patrol.


Ed Mori


Troop 1

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We are trying a hybrid of the new boy patrol program. Our new scouts are currently in a new boys patrol and we plan to have them there at least until summer camp. We are using the older boys as instructors which lets the new scouts get to know them while they work toward their first class. We will have the new scouts to tenderfoot by summer camp and are contimplating integrating them at that point. I agree that when you have a mix of older and younger boys the older normally take the top positions but I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing. As the older boys move up (and out) the next age group will naturally flow into the leadership positions with in the patrol. I joined my patrol (the aardvarks) at age 11 and had a 15 year old patrol leader...I learned alot from him (and yes there was some hazing. I didn't die or lose any hope of developing self-esteem because of it but the program is better off without it) By the time I was 14 I had worked myself up to PL and had 11-14 year olds in "my" patrol. From there I moved to the leadership corp (a repository for older boys that were used as instructors etc) and then to SPL at 16. It was an effective way to "raise" a scout. I picture doing something similar in our troop. One point though...I would still have some activities divided up by age.

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My boyhood scouting experience was very similar. PL tended to be a stable position because of maturity and rank structure. We also put a lot of effort into grooming the up-and-coming PLs with their progress being a frequent topic of discussion at PLCs. There are pros/cons to this and I don't want to start a fight about it, but a long-term PL became very effective at the job and felt a lot of ownership over his patrol. He was also held accountable for the advancement of his boys -- also a freq. topic at PLCs.


Bob White,


Sorry I wasn't more clear -- I do understand the concept of New Scout Patrols and associated support leadership/training. If I recollect correctly, this concept was started in the late 70s and has evolved since then. My son's large troop uses this and I've been helping. Can see where it would work for some, but not others -- no heartburn.


But I do believe there is a difference between same-age and mixed-age patrols when you get above "New Scout" level. When the PL is a peer with no additional skills/wisdom above the rest and you rotate it around every 6 months, the leadership is shaky and it seems very difficult for the Patrol to really gel and gain a sense of direction. At least that's my observation from helping out in our troop for the last 2 years.


I REALLY like what you said about giving the guys an option of staying with same-age group or moving into a Regular Patrol. What kind of Patrol mix (same age vs regular) have you evolved to?




Concur about problems with monstrously large. It's a definite problem. We're blessed (& cursed) with a good reputation and the Webelos are beating down the door. Just had first shakedown campout exclusively for the new guys (27 in 3 patrols) and their older PLs (appointed by SPL for first 6 months), Guides, ASM, etc. And we have a waiting list of more that want in as soon as somebody drops. SM and Troop Council haven't been willing to take more drastic measures to reduce influx with so many that want in. We are having space problems and now undergoing negotiations with Charter Org (church) about more room. Space may force a change. I mentioned to SM last night that we may need to consider possibility of splitting into two still-good-sized troops. Facilities may drive the decision, but I think another good one is a troop this size is probably over the threshold of what boys can really run. Fortunately (or, maybe, unfortunately, because it's an enabler), we have lots of adult help.


All -- thanks for the insights. I'm still interested in how we can alleviate the problems I see with all same-age patrols, but I'm going to make a run at the SM to see if he'd be willing to consider one or two natural patrols so guys would have a choice.




mike f

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We let the individual scout choose to remain in the existing patrol or choose another patrol. The reason is, we see this as a natural occurence. In life outside of the troop they are not assigned to their friends, they choose or are chosen by friends. In addition it's a life lesson. Scouting needs to be a safe testing ground where scouts can practice life skills. Learning how to choose who you want to associate with is an important skill.


The scouts almost always make the choice that is right for them. On occassion, as their personalities develop, a scout will ask to change their Patrol affiliation. We handle that on a case by case basis. Our main concern is that the scout learns about making good choices in life. (some may see this as a record keeping problem. I would hate to have my scouting legacy include "He kept such nice records!" ;) )


Rarely have I seen a Patrol fail whether it was a mixed age or single age Patrol. When it happens it's usually from an adult not following the program.


Bob(This message has been edited by Bob White)

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I agree with evmori. We also integrate our new scouts into existing patrols. We find the new scouts learn faster from the experienced scouts. we did try the new patrol system for a few years and found too much of an "us against them" attitude from our existing scouts. When we integrate them into patrols, they seem to become more a part of the group. We do consult with the Webelo leader to see which scouts get along together and which ones to not put together in a patrol! Avoids some future problems.

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Thanks for lending your excellent insights and experience to this discussion!


I had been led to believe that the use of same-age patrols beyond first year was in wide-spread use throughout scouting. I could have missed some, but sounds like Bob White is in the only troop that uses them for older boys and even they have a choice of same-age and mixed-age patrols.


Is there anybody out there who uses them exclusively that can chime in?



-mike f

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My son's troop is using the new scout patrols right now because they had sooo many Webelos cross over. They do have one existing scout they put in one of the new patrols -- I think to motivate him to complete First Class, give him some leadership opportunities and give him some ways to succeed and increase his self esteem (teaching the new scouts). He is older on paper but not in actions.


My son wanted to be in another patrol with a friend he made on the first few troop visits. He was told he can when he reaches First Class. The other patrols are mixed age just because of the size of the troop. Currently about 45 boys, counting the new guys. Often troops combine into one for a campout, also being a mixture of ages and rank.


As a parent, one of the benefits I see in Scouting for my son is for him to have contact with boys of different ages. It improves their social skills both as the youngest and the oldest in a group. I hear that it helps when they get to high school to see a familiar face in the crowd, when they see their patrol members in the hallways.


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We have changed to using age specific patrols. New scout patrol, second year scout patrol, third year patrol,and a Venture Patrol made up of all the high school age scouts. IMHO, it seems a lot like a continuation of Cub scouting, just that these patrols aren't named Wolf, Bear, etc. I feel we are losing a lot of the natural mentoring and leadership opportunities that occurs in mixed age patrols. Formerly, we changed patrol makeup every six months, also not an ideal situation. The troop is roughly 35 boys, so given this configuration, if the scout isn't comfortable in a patrol with his peers he has no other options, put up or drop out. The Venture Patrol does nothing different than the other patrols, it is just the oldest boys patrol. I've questioned the change and been told the PLC chose to do it that way because the boys wanted to be with their friends.

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