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Growing Troop - how to change the culture?

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While I agree with Kudu's thoughts on physical distance -- I've learned that separating patrols makes it an effort to go "mess" with other patrols solves more discipline issues that anything you can do -- I have come to see that cooking a meal is the essence of a patrol. Every attribute we want to instill in our Scouts is learned, honed and tested while planning, cooking and cleaning up from a meal -- teamwork, cooperation, leadership, courtesy, reverence, delegation, compromise, dealing with adversity and other's shortcomings, not to mention the basic skills involved. We are a cooking troop which means our campouts tend to be more homesteading than trekking. Leave my guys in the woods long enough and they'll have crops in the ground.

 

Getting to that point took years. I could write a book on the things we did to get our Scouts to the point at which they were willing to put al little extra effort into preparing good meals. The hardest part was getting the boys to take some risks and try new things, have some confidence in their own ability and understand that their efforts would pay off in the end -- not a bad life lesson, huh?

 

The first thing I did was to ban both Pop-Tarts and Raman noodles. Yep, dictate top-down from the SM. What I found was that I could encourage several patrols to put the effort in to making a nice meal, but it only took a couple guys walking around munching Pop-Tarts and sneering at the other guys for being chumps to negate the positive gains. Pop-Tarts are the perfect adolescent meal -- easy, require no effort, no team work, they are devoid of any nutritional value, and allow the guys to be seen as bucking the system and getting away with something -- a home run for a 14 year old boy. One of our first cooking programs was a "Iron Chef" weekend during which the troop provided each patrol with an identical larder of food for the weekend (not unlike the way patrol meals are provided for IOLS training.) They were required to use every ingredient and were scored on the creativity and quality among other things. One of the obvious solution was to use the peppers, onions and mushrooms to make an omelet instead of simple scrambled eggs. We were encouraged when, on the next month's campout, several of the patrols brought peppers, onions, sausage, salsa, etc., and started to run with the idea. But the next campout, as all the patrols were working on their breakfasts, a couple guys from the self-appointed "cool kid patrol" walked from campsite to campsite chomping on their Pop-Tarts, bragging about how they slept in, had Pop-Tarts and were already finished with breakfast. The hissing sound was the air being let out of our program.

 

Which is all a long way to make the point that you shouldn't be afraid to step in and establish a baseline for the program. YOU, as Scoutmaster, are responsible for delivering the program. Youth leadership is part of that program, but isn't the tail which wags the dog. Don't get hung up on the idea that you have to wait for the boys to discover the correct path and follow it. ESPECIALLY when trying to fix a broken culture, the unit leaders need to layout the broad strokes of the program then let the Scouts take it from there. It may be necessary for you to reset some of the expectations for the older boys, especially if their current rules of operation are negatively impacting the program for the younger boys.

 

Scouts aren't born with the ability to lead, plan, camp, cook, hike, etc. It takes training. That the older boys have developed poor habits in these areas doesn't mean you are stuck with their poor example. Yes, it will be difficult for them to unlearn those habits and get on with the new program, but they need to. Of course you've got to decide which hills are worth dying on and how far you can push the older Scouts.

 

One of the most beneficial sessions in Wood Badge, I thought, was the one on managing change. My take-away from the session, now almost 10 years ago, was that to manage change you need 1) a clear vision for your end goal, 2) communicate that plan to the group, 3) the fortitude to stick with it, 4) and the willingness to accept some losses along the way. You may lose some of the older Scouts along the away. You've got to decide what are acceptable losses.

 

But most important is having a clear understanding of your goal and staying that course.

 

Doesn't change the showering factor in our troop. The no brushing teeth part has to stop. Maybe a contest to see who can spit out the fire with rinse. :)

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While I agree with Kudu's thoughts on physical distance -- I've learned that separating patrols makes it an effort to go "mess" with other patrols solves more discipline issues that anything you can do -- I have come to see that cooking a meal is the essence of a patrol. Every attribute we want to instill in our Scouts is learned, honed and tested while planning, cooking and cleaning up from a meal -- teamwork, cooperation, leadership, courtesy, reverence, delegation, compromise, dealing with adversity and other's shortcomings, not to mention the basic skills involved. We are a cooking troop which means our campouts tend to be more homesteading than trekking. Leave my guys in the woods long enough and they'll have crops in the ground.

 

Getting to that point took years. I could write a book on the things we did to get our Scouts to the point at which they were willing to put al little extra effort into preparing good meals. The hardest part was getting the boys to take some risks and try new things, have some confidence in their own ability and understand that their efforts would pay off in the end -- not a bad life lesson, huh?

 

The first thing I did was to ban both Pop-Tarts and Raman noodles. Yep, dictate top-down from the SM. What I found was that I could encourage several patrols to put the effort in to making a nice meal, but it only took a couple guys walking around munching Pop-Tarts and sneering at the other guys for being chumps to negate the positive gains. Pop-Tarts are the perfect adolescent meal -- easy, require no effort, no team work, they are devoid of any nutritional value, and allow the guys to be seen as bucking the system and getting away with something -- a home run for a 14 year old boy. One of our first cooking programs was a "Iron Chef" weekend during which the troop provided each patrol with an identical larder of food for the weekend (not unlike the way patrol meals are provided for IOLS training.) They were required to use every ingredient and were scored on the creativity and quality among other things. One of the obvious solution was to use the peppers, onions and mushrooms to make an omelet instead of simple scrambled eggs. We were encouraged when, on the next month's campout, several of the patrols brought peppers, onions, sausage, salsa, etc., and started to run with the idea. But the next campout, as all the patrols were working on their breakfasts, a couple guys from the self-appointed "cool kid patrol" walked from campsite to campsite chomping on their Pop-Tarts, bragging about how they slept in, had Pop-Tarts and were already finished with breakfast. The hissing sound was the air being let out of our program.

 

Which is all a long way to make the point that you shouldn't be afraid to step in and establish a baseline for the program. YOU, as Scoutmaster, are responsible for delivering the program. Youth leadership is part of that program, but isn't the tail which wags the dog. Don't get hung up on the idea that you have to wait for the boys to discover the correct path and follow it. ESPECIALLY when trying to fix a broken culture, the unit leaders need to layout the broad strokes of the program then let the Scouts take it from there. It may be necessary for you to reset some of the expectations for the older boys, especially if their current rules of operation are negatively impacting the program for the younger boys.

 

Scouts aren't born with the ability to lead, plan, camp, cook, hike, etc. It takes training. That the older boys have developed poor habits in these areas doesn't mean you are stuck with their poor example. Yes, it will be difficult for them to unlearn those habits and get on with the new program, but they need to. Of course you've got to decide which hills are worth dying on and how far you can push the older Scouts.

 

One of the most beneficial sessions in Wood Badge, I thought, was the one on managing change. My take-away from the session, now almost 10 years ago, was that to manage change you need 1) a clear vision for your end goal, 2) communicate that plan to the group, 3) the fortitude to stick with it, 4) and the willingness to accept some losses along the way. You may lose some of the older Scouts along the away. You've got to decide what are acceptable losses.

 

But most important is having a clear understanding of your goal and staying that course.

 

never had a patrol do poptarts. we have banned baby carrots as the veggie as too often they never pulled them out. We also banned making donuts because patrols were eating a few taking off and coming back to grab a couple more - no real time hanging as a patrol.

 

boys do like to do baggie eggs when we have to bug out quicker if we are traveling a long way (this weekend they are over 6 hour drive away - I'm stuck at home with a banged up hand)

 

we do allow ramen noodles, but not as just ramen noodles - used to make great backpacking chicken noodle soup or pepperoni pasta.

 

to be honest we hardly have to say anything. boys know the rules. meeting before campout is patrol meeting: they break into their groups after awards and announcements and do their thing... meal planning, duty roster, pick a patrol activity to do separate from troop activity, pick a song or skit for evening campfire, and go over what requirements they need for rank or mb for PL to use as suggestions at PLC for future activities. we adults just discuss what we'd like to eat and who wants to be cook. campouts run very smooth and are a lot of fun to just go and hang at.

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Thanks everyone. Keep the great ideas coming. It is reassuring to know I have already been doing some of these things without really thinking about why.

 

Back in February I organized our first every cooking competition campout. We had each patrol plan out a lunch, dinner, dessert, and breakfast. The adult leaders and SPL got to score each meal based on taste, presentation, creativity, etc. It was a close battle, but in the end, it was the oldest scout patrol that actually won the competition. They participated and really seemed to enjoy it.

 

At our last meeting, we have to two youngest patrols play a game involving tying bowlines and 'rescuing' their patrol-mates. The same older patrol facilitated the game and again had a good time and was not disruptive.

 

I definitely agree with Twocubdad that sometimes you have to dictate/mandate from the SM position if you want to change the culture. It is not necessarily that they boys don't want to do things, but more that they don't know how. When you show them, they will pick up with it.

 

One of the next things on my list is getting the boys planning meeting activities. We have discussions in advance and I ask them what do they want to do at the next meeting or two. Blank stares or sarcasm all the way around. I will suggest why don't we do x, y, and z and they will all agree. I am hoping that at some point they pick up on this and actually bring some ideas forward.

 

Thanks for everyone's help. I am learning a lot here. Keep 'em coming!

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Thanks everyone. Keep the great ideas coming. It is reassuring to know I have already been doing some of these things without really thinking about why.

 

Back in February I organized our first every cooking competition campout. We had each patrol plan out a lunch, dinner, dessert, and breakfast. The adult leaders and SPL got to score each meal based on taste, presentation, creativity, etc. It was a close battle, but in the end, it was the oldest scout patrol that actually won the competition. They participated and really seemed to enjoy it.

 

At our last meeting, we have to two youngest patrols play a game involving tying bowlines and 'rescuing' their patrol-mates. The same older patrol facilitated the game and again had a good time and was not disruptive.

 

I definitely agree with Twocubdad that sometimes you have to dictate/mandate from the SM position if you want to change the culture. It is not necessarily that they boys don't want to do things, but more that they don't know how. When you show them, they will pick up with it.

 

One of the next things on my list is getting the boys planning meeting activities. We have discussions in advance and I ask them what do they want to do at the next meeting or two. Blank stares or sarcasm all the way around. I will suggest why don't we do x, y, and z and they will all agree. I am hoping that at some point they pick up on this and actually bring some ideas forward.

 

Thanks for everyone's help. I am learning a lot here. Keep 'em coming!

You nailed it, the scouts simply don't know how. Sending a scout into leadership without some skills is like sending them in the cave without a flashlight. They are just going to bump their heads feeling their way around. We developed "plannng" skills by teaching a few simple steps. First Make a list of monthly themes for meetings and campouts. YOu know fun things like fishing, backpackingand rappelling. Ask each patrol to contribute three different ideas. The adults get to throw in three as well. Write them an the wall for all to see. Then have the scouts vote on the best suggestions. Next, do camping locations. This works best if you can bring in some vacation books with camping sites. Let the scouts ponder through the and throw out some ideas. Then set dates on big calenders that everyone can. In everything scouts do, break up large task like planning, into a few simple small task so scouts don't focus on the mountain they have to climb, just the steps that get them there. Get scouts to use agendas for every meeting. Our SPL runs and average of 100 PLC meetings every six month. Patrols leaders should run at least 25 to 30. Those meeting go alot easier and faster when the scouts use the agenda as a quick guide. Agendas should be simple: Officer reports, old business, new business and sometimes a closing. Twocubs ban of poptarts isn't really so much a ban as it is teaching healthy lifestyle. A scout is clean, teach them how to be clean. Scouts will buy into health and safety, they just don't like adults making up rules because they are adults. Our scouts could have poptarts, but they still had to cook and include the three food groups. I never had to ban anything, I just asked them if it was healthy and to change the policy if wasn't. We had the same issue with pop. It got out of control, I asked the PLC if it was healthy and they discussed it and change the policy. Teach them, trust them, let them go. If you did it right, they will come back to you asking for more. Why, because learning skills of life gives them indpendence and they love independence. I love this scouting stuff. Barry

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LHScoutmaster,

 

In my opinion, what you are doing right now is THE most difficult and challenging part of a Boy Scout Program.

 

My pet peeve with BSA material is that it describes what an ideal boy-led troop is. However, they do not tell you how to get there from here.

 

A fully functioning boy-led troop has a tremendous asset: the older scouts teach/show the newer scouts how it’s done. Likewise, the experienced adult leaders teach/show the new parents assuming leadership roles. There is a structure to the unit's program that is learned by living it. For the most part, the passing of this information is rather seamless and almost without notice.

 

In part, for this reason, the two most important things to do:

 

1. Get the leading scouts to take NYLT. At NYLT, the scouts will live the way a real boy-led troop is supposed to, while getting a few classroom lessons in leadership. All the boys in my troop that went enjoyed NYLT – it was a lot of fun. A few of the oldest boys went also – I could see that the older scouts finally started to understand what we are trying to do with the troop. The NYLT program does a very good job at having it seem like the youth are running practically everything.

 

2. Get as many Assistant Scoutmasters as possible to take Scoutmaster Training and then Woodbadge Training. As with the boys in NYLT, these adult will live the patrol method and have some “Aha!†moments as to why the patrol method, when implemented correctly, works. Taking the training is VERY different then just reading the training material!

 

As far as building a boy-led troop, I am a Scoutmaster in a similar situation as you. I wish I recognized the value of NYLT earlier. The Scoutmaster before me thought it was a waste of money. He found the syllabus online and planned to teach the leadership lesson plans to the oldest scouts. That made sense to me then – because then I didn’t recognize what was really going on at NYLT!

 

Other suggestions:

3. Strengthening the patrol method is paramount! Focus efforts on anything and everything that improves this, such as patrols designing Patrol Flags, selecting menus for a campout, assigning a duty roster, locating patrol campsites far away from one another (including adults) and inter-patrol competitions.

 

4. Avoid same-age patrols – some on this website say it is ok to have same-aged patrols. On the surface, it seems like it is what everyone wants. But once you have younger and older (less and more experienced) scouts in the same patrol, all sorts of great new dynamics arise. In my opinion, this gives more/better opportunities for leadership experience, stronger mentor/mentoree relationships, confidence in one’s leadership abilities and exercises the patrol method better than same-age patrols.

 

5. Boy-led troops are for boy-led troops only!

 

In my troop, when the previous Scoutmaster was around, I suggested that we should transition to a boy-led troop. He said OK. So we did it. Cold Turkey. Disaster. At a campout, the SPL (one of the oldest boys) was told to handle all issues that came up (problems that even an adult leader would have difficulty handling.) There was no structure. Complete chaos. The SPL was told to rely on the PLs – but the PLs were useless since they were just figureheads. The SPL was run ragged. The SPL now knew for sure that this boy-led concept was not what he wanted at all! Complete Disaster.

 

You need to ease into a boy-led troop - it takes time to develop the proper structure of a boy-led troop. By all means, give the scouts as much illusion as possible that they are running the show – but you need to realize that in the beginning it will all fall apart without support from the adults.

 

I agree that boys often learn quickest from failure. But you must make the decision where and when you will let the boys fail. A failure that makes a recruitment campout miserable for the new recruits may be unacceptable to you (it is to me). But on another campout, if a patrol is eating cold food because someone forgot to pack the patrol’s stove – that is another story.

 

Eventually, as your troop becomes more truly boy-led, then indeed the decisions are made by the boys – but you can’t get there overnight.

 

When our troop started having PLCs, the now former Scoutmaster let the PLC members (mostly older scouts) decide that the older scouts should have an exclusive campout to just work on Eagle required merit badges and then another campout where both younger and older boys attend, and the older boys would help the younger with their rank requirements. (This was also being pushed by merit-badge focused parents of the older boys who were pushing their sons to advance). This is where a trained Scoutmaster needs to recognize the situation and step in to simply say “This is not the BSA program.â€Â.

 

So my final suggestion is:

 

6. When applicable, be ready to firmly tell the youth leaders and parents that “This is not the BSA program.â€Â

 

Every one of these 6 points I wish I knew when I first took over as Scoutmaster. My troop has come a long way from an adult led troop towards a boy led - but we are not there yet.

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Great post Eagle Claw. I fully understand your comments on NYLT. I am a big believer of youth training. In fact I was the council Youth Leadership Development Trainer of which I was responsible for all youth leadership training. From all my years of leading a boy run troop and administering leadership traning for youth and adults, I have concluded it's the adults who really need to attend NYLT. In fact I started encouraging troops to send an adult from their troop to staff NYLT even if they didn't have any scouts attending. not that many took the suggestion. The biggest problem with troops is they don't encourage the scouts who attended NYLT to use some the things they learned. They just don't know how really. So we had our NYLT participants create a list of about 4 or 5 things they wanted to try that they learned from the course. We had the SMs sit with their scouts on the last day of course and create a plan together of how to implement their scouts ideas. Of course we prepped th SMs first to why we were doing this. It worked pretty good. I know this was a little off topic, sorry. Barry

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LHScoutmaster,

 

3. Strengthening the patrol method is paramount! Focus efforts on anything and everything that improves this, such as ... locating patrol campsites far away from one another (including adults).

 

 

Add Bearclaw's suggestion #3 to my collection of physical distance suggestions for this thread!

 

It is easier for adults in transition to picture Boy Scout Patrols designing Patrol Flags, selecting menus for a campout, assigning a duty roster, and participating in inter-patrol competitions. These can all be done under "controlled failure" supervision.

 

Patrols camped far apart and backpacking without two-deep helicopters can be more difficult to imagine.

 

LHScoutmaster, is Baden-Powell's 300 foot minimum standard for the Patrol System of any practical value to you, or is it just words?

 

Yours at 300 feet,

 

Kudu

 

 

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While I agree with Kudu's thoughts on physical distance -- I've learned that separating patrols makes it an effort to go "mess" with other patrols solves more discipline issues that anything you can do -- I have come to see that cooking a meal is the essence of a patrol. Every attribute we want to instill in our Scouts is learned, honed and tested while planning, cooking and cleaning up from a meal -- teamwork, cooperation, leadership, courtesy, reverence, delegation, compromise, dealing with adversity and other's shortcomings, not to mention the basic skills involved. We are a cooking troop which means our campouts tend to be more homesteading than trekking. Leave my guys in the woods long enough and they'll have crops in the ground.

 

Getting to that point took years. I could write a book on the things we did to get our Scouts to the point at which they were willing to put al little extra effort into preparing good meals. The hardest part was getting the boys to take some risks and try new things, have some confidence in their own ability and understand that their efforts would pay off in the end -- not a bad life lesson, huh?

 

The first thing I did was to ban both Pop-Tarts and Raman noodles. Yep, dictate top-down from the SM. What I found was that I could encourage several patrols to put the effort in to making a nice meal, but it only took a couple guys walking around munching Pop-Tarts and sneering at the other guys for being chumps to negate the positive gains. Pop-Tarts are the perfect adolescent meal -- easy, require no effort, no team work, they are devoid of any nutritional value, and allow the guys to be seen as bucking the system and getting away with something -- a home run for a 14 year old boy. One of our first cooking programs was a "Iron Chef" weekend during which the troop provided each patrol with an identical larder of food for the weekend (not unlike the way patrol meals are provided for IOLS training.) They were required to use every ingredient and were scored on the creativity and quality among other things. One of the obvious solution was to use the peppers, onions and mushrooms to make an omelet instead of simple scrambled eggs. We were encouraged when, on the next month's campout, several of the patrols brought peppers, onions, sausage, salsa, etc., and started to run with the idea. But the next campout, as all the patrols were working on their breakfasts, a couple guys from the self-appointed "cool kid patrol" walked from campsite to campsite chomping on their Pop-Tarts, bragging about how they slept in, had Pop-Tarts and were already finished with breakfast. The hissing sound was the air being let out of our program.

 

Which is all a long way to make the point that you shouldn't be afraid to step in and establish a baseline for the program. YOU, as Scoutmaster, are responsible for delivering the program. Youth leadership is part of that program, but isn't the tail which wags the dog. Don't get hung up on the idea that you have to wait for the boys to discover the correct path and follow it. ESPECIALLY when trying to fix a broken culture, the unit leaders need to layout the broad strokes of the program then let the Scouts take it from there. It may be necessary for you to reset some of the expectations for the older boys, especially if their current rules of operation are negatively impacting the program for the younger boys.

 

Scouts aren't born with the ability to lead, plan, camp, cook, hike, etc. It takes training. That the older boys have developed poor habits in these areas doesn't mean you are stuck with their poor example. Yes, it will be difficult for them to unlearn those habits and get on with the new program, but they need to. Of course you've got to decide which hills are worth dying on and how far you can push the older Scouts.

 

One of the most beneficial sessions in Wood Badge, I thought, was the one on managing change. My take-away from the session, now almost 10 years ago, was that to manage change you need 1) a clear vision for your end goal, 2) communicate that plan to the group, 3) the fortitude to stick with it, 4) and the willingness to accept some losses along the way. You may lose some of the older Scouts along the away. You've got to decide what are acceptable losses.

 

But most important is having a clear understanding of your goal and staying that course.

 

Twocubdad writes:

 

While I agree with Kudu's thoughts on physical distance -- I have come to see that cooking a meal is the essence of a patrol.

 

 

 

To be fair, I wrote that nothing changes the culture of a Troop FASTER than physical distance between the Patrols!

 

Within minutes of pitching tents in remote hideouts, the need for strong Patrol Leaders becomes obvious to Scouts and adults alike. This remarkable instant change in Troop culture is also true for Patrol backpacking as little as a quarter-mile from the Troop trailer.

 

I agree with TwoCubDad that cooking a meal is the essence of a patrol, and the time it takes to become the established Troop culture is worth it.

 

The downside of placing it before physical distance, is that when guys set their minds on a cooking priority, then heavy-duty Patrol Boxes, propane tank trees, and a car port dining area close to the Troop trailer is not far behind.

 

When physical distance comes first, the beauty of Lightweight Patrol Cooking is obvious:

 

http://inquiry.net/outdoor/equipment/lightweight_camping.htm

 

http://inquiry.net/outdoor/skills/cooking/lightweight.htm

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As much as you start with the kids, in this case, I think it starts with the ASM corp in your troop! Those leaders need to be on board. Particularly if you have lots of newer adult leaders/parent volunteers who have new scouts in the troop. Spend serious time on training in the Patrol method (and while you're at it, please, make sure that adults understand the BSa direction on advancement/achievement/ BORs).

 

Say over and over to adults "if a scout can do it, the adults shouldn't!" The boys need to get direction - "check with your patrol leader" and the patrol leaders/PLC/TLC need to hear "check with the SPL/ASPLs." The ASMs need to be mentors/coaches in the process.

 

We're here to make sure that everyone is safe, the kids get fed (even if late), stay dry and warm, and bottom line -- they need to be having fun (most of the time) or why do it?

 

You deserve many congrats for what you've achieved already -- I predict even more growth and a highly respected troop!

 

 

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Thanks everyone for the responses. I appreciate the comments.

 

Qwazse - great ideas reinforcing the patrol method. I have started doing some of that, especially competitions between the patrols. That really seems to grab the boys

 

Basementdweller - before I got here, there really was no 'program' per say. Meetings were times to play football and camp outs consisted of hiking and eating pop tarts. I am starting to work in a program where the monthly campout is focused on some sort of scout skill and we use the meetings leading up to it to teach that skills. It's not yet where I want it, but we are making baby steps. Key problem is my SPL is one of the biggest opponents to doing scout stuff...cooking is too much work/gotta wash dishes...building a campsite gateway is too much work/you've just got to take it apart again.

 

MattR - great note. Your situation does seem very similar to mine. I am working hard not to mandate change. I would like the boys to lead the change, but it is a challenge when your boy leaders do not want to change. I have some new ASMs with solid scouting backgrounds (Eagle scouts, OA) so they are onboard with the transition. We are spending most of our change efforts on the new guys (0-2 years in). That is 90% of the boys at this point, so I think the change will occur over time, probably more quickly than I expect.

 

IM_Kathy - my class of oldest scouts absolutely does not want to teach (I already learned that stuff. I don't need to know it anymore), so again, we are focusing on the next class down where there is more interest.

My troop just banned BB, "too rough."

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All good advice. We are in same boat after a year of backsliding. I think the boys will catch on quick. It is often harder to get the adults on board...

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