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cchoat

Merit Badges and Summer/Winter Camp

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As a current scout, I’ll share my present opinion as I experience this yearly.

 

I agree and disagree with your reasonings. Not all summer camps are “MB assemnlylinesâ€, some actually coach, teach, whatever you want to call it.

 

Thankfully there are some camps still out there with integrity.  I want to know, what makes them work while others fail.  How can other camp directors take those lessons back to their camp.

 

What I think you should emphasize on as well is the SIZE of classes, you only talk about that a little bit. Example, I was in a cooking class with at least 30 people (5+ picnic tables filled). We did not actually cook food, we boiled frozen chicken tenders. I think you should also include how the QUALITY of the classes can be ruined by the size and inexperienced instructor(s). I went to the bathroom once with a buddy during the class and they didn’t even notice I came back! I probably could’ve never came back and still got the requirements done for that day.

 

I have touched n that topic, and will further explain why smaller classes work best.  Right now I am throwing this out and taking in your comments and suggestions.  What is happening in my neck of the woods, may not be the same in yours, and it would be unfair to tar every camp with the same brush. 

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We did not signup just for the merit badge (most camps have cooking anyway), but large classes can be prevented by having a limit on how many can be on one class.

 

I am sorry that I was not more clear. You could not and did not know the size or the format of the class before you signed up. Even Nationals, absent additional rules, guidance, and perhaps auditing the specific class, could prevent or limit the class size.

 

Years ago, I worked for the American Camping Association. They have an accreditation program that requires camps to pay a fee to be accredited. That accreditation requires certification and auditing of various aspects of the camp. The only likely way Nationals could clamp down on the MB program at camps would be to create something similar. That being stated, it isn't just camps. My son recently attended a class on a weekend for a specific MB taught by the DNR. Nationals would need to regulate their class size and content too. That creates additional expenses for both the MBC entity and for the National organization.

 

Since anyone can sign up to be a MBC and since such is approved locally and not nationally, I think regulating this activity would have to fall on the councils, which of course would require greater work on them - and then only if they really want to more heavily manage camps in their council area. My guess is that many councils won't.

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Thank you for your answers. 

 

Unfortunately, most do not actually earn the merit badges. Some requirements get signed off that could not possibly have been completed.

 

That is as you have stated, a sad fact. 

 

A more frequent issue is the "DO, Show, Demonstrate" parts of the MB are done, shown or demonstrated by the counselor in a group setting.

 

And how can a large group of Scouts actually Do, Show, and demonstrate in the limited timeframes set out by the camps?  I say they can't.

 

This past Summer at our camp, the MB classes were given by instructors (many of which are under 18 and cannot be counselors anyway). The instructors would sign off that requirements had been covered, but MB Counselors back at the unit (or Counselors from District or Council) would test the Scout and sign off if they felt the work was completed according to the requirements. It was a bit of delayed gratification for some scouts, but that is not a bad thing. It also ensured that the Scouts did and understood the requirement. In some cases a requirement may need to be redone if the counselor was not confident the scout understood/completed the work.

 

The guide to Scouting Advancement states that once a merit badge councilor has signed off on the badge, the boy has earned it. He is not to be retested.   Now there are ways to dispute whether or not the Scout has really earned it, and most scouts will fess up and admit it, but why should it be happening in the first place?  Why are we allowing this to happen?  

 

IT worked well for us. The Scouts didn't seem to mind, because they were interested in doing the work and having fun. As leaders we liked it because we felt confident that the scout earned the badge.

 

But you should not have to retest, recheck a Scout if the camp is doing things right the first time.  This is what I am trying to address.

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Hawkwin makes a good point. There's another issue - cost. It's costly to staff shooting and aquatics activities. It's cheap to staff a mb where you can pay a 16 year old less than min wage to stand up and talk. My scouts used to sleep during mb classes to make up for playing hard. Anyway, this problem also needs to be looked at if your council will buy in.

Thank you for your response. 

 

One of the premises I am going to make is that camps do away with trying to teach merit badges that have nothing to do with the outdoors..  As you have noted,  staff shooting and aquatics activities are the positions where experience and certifications are important, but are two things that Scouts normally can not do outside of the camp experience.  Citizenship in the Community or Family Life are two such examples of badges that should not be taught in camp.  I am looking for other ways that a small council camp to make itself marketable, other than offering a large swath of merit badges.   

Since this paper is really being directed at my council camp, I know that I am going to be seen as the nail sticking up, but if I can give them workable solutions, then perhaps they will buy into me ideas. 

Edited by cchoat

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Thank you for your assistance. 

 

BSA knows cheating is going on - expressly directed by the "professional" staff and desired by many volunteer unit leaders, but BSA elects to allow it to continue.   

 

I have personally seen this, but it doesn't make it right.  I am trying to offer my council camp a way out of this web.

 

National Camping Standards require "All advancement must be consistent with BSA advancement policies.... Recognizing that an important part of the merit badge program is that the Scout meets with a qualified counselor, due care is taken to ensure that all merit badge requirements are met."

 

"BSA advancement policies," of course, require that only a registered Merit badge Counselor can act in that role and that all requirements must be individually passed and certified as individually passed by a registered Merit Badge Counselor (i.e., and adult registered as a Merit badge Counselor with a Local Council).  However, camps are routinely certified by "visitation" teams with no evidence whatsoever that this mandatory minimum standard can or will be followed.  I saw a fourteen-year-old "Merit Badge Counselor" last Summer at camp Week 1 (and Weeks 2,3 and 6). And he didn't know much.

 

I served one year as part of the "visitation" team you speak of, and can say that we were more interested in making sure the boxes where checked (Certified lifeguard, check.  Clean kitchen, check. Serviceable Latrines, check.) and that staff members other than those at the Shooting Sports or Aquatics didn't hit the radar. 

 

Absent a public scandal, there will be no reform.  Advancement chairs who try to fix things are plowed under as volunteers have little actual power in BSA Scouting.

We are left with encouraging unit leaders to not allow this scandal to include their unit.

 

As a District Commissioner, I understand the fact that the volunteers, who are the backbone of the program, are often the last to be consulted or listened to.  But if no one stands up, the problem will continue.  It's all in how it's presented to the professionals. 

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Thank you for your unique view on this issue.

 

As a former 14-year-old instructor (and again at 15, 16 and 17, before finally being a real MBC at 18), I'd like to represent the camp staff perspective. I agree the system is flawed. I was certainly not qualified to teach some of my badges that young (but for others, I was, and did a solid job if I do say so). There are two solutions, both of which will run up against local unit opposition.

 

1. Most camps can't afford to hire all 18+ staff as instructors. It's difficult enough in some cases to hire the required 18 and 21s for area director roles. The fix is to pay more money and recruit more heavily among that population, particularly college students. When you're competing against career-oriented internships or jobs that pay five times more, there is no contest. That will lead to higher camp costs.

 

I have seen camps that do just this.  One such camp in Oklahoma only recruits college students and limits the badges they instruct to their college major.  I can tell you that my Scouts covered the badges and then some.    The camp was a bit costlier, but they put on a much more solid program

2. Many camps don't limit the number of Scouts who can take a certain class, leading to 30+ Scouts in a Pioneering or Cooking session under one instructor. The solution is to limit session size to 5-8 - a standard patrol size, same as if the patrol had signed up for lessons from an expert outfitter or guide on a trek. This will lead to Scouts not able to get in to their desired badges.

 

This seems to be part of the cost cutting process.  Could you as a 14 or even 16 year old expect to teach a merit badge to a class this large to standard?  It comes from trying to do too much, with to little.

My personal favorite solution is to go the Cub Scout camp route and offer activities rather than formal classes. On Cub camp staff, we didn't sign off on anything, as that was Akela's job. We just ran fun stuff. Boy Scout camps could do the same thing. Instead of Cooking MB class, they do sessions on various types of cooking - Dutch oven, backpacking stove, freezer bag. Instead of Kayaking and Rowing and Canoeing, there's instructional boating and open boating periods. Instead of Environmental Science, there are structured observation hikes and guided experiments on certain subjects.

 

Exactly where I am going.  Summer camp should be a fun activity, the highlight of the Scouting year. yes, there will be a place to earn merit badges, but it shouldn't be the center point.

 

The bigger question is whether anyone would go for this approach. Would units and parents pay for a camp where their Scouts learned rather than earned?

 

That's the sixty-four million dollar question....

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I'm not a fan of letting Scouts take Eagle-required Merit Badges at Summer Camps or Merit Badge Universities. The idea of having them complete a few requirements at home and have the rest forced into their minds in a few hours is questionable. Do they learn by "filling in the blanks?" Doubtful. What about knowledge retention? 

 

As Scoutmaster, I am seriously considering not allowing Scouts under First Class to take Eagle-required Merit Badges at these events. 

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The "logic" often expressed is that Merit Badges being given out requires doing so without complying with the Guide to Advancement.

 

The alternative view is, "Stop handing out unearned Merit Badges."

 

I also point out that the Guide to Advancement strongly discourages group Merit Badges.  

 

"Advancement is not the primary objective of the program. Recognizing that an important part of the merit badge program is that the Scout meets with a qualified counselor, due care is taken to ensure that all merit badge requirements are met. Some merit badges may not be appropriate for offering at summer camp. Advancement offered and camp personnel instructing advancement programs are approved, as appropriate, by the council advancement committee."  STATUS: ROUTINELY IGNORED BY SCOUT EXECUTIVES.

 

"7.0.1.1 Qualifications of Counselors People serving as merit badge counselors must maintain registration with the Boy Scouts of America as merit badge counselors and be approved by their local council advancement committee for each of their badges. This includes those working at summer camp or in any other group instruction setting...." STATUS: ROUTINELY IGNORED BY SCOUT EXECUTIVES.

 

"7.0.1.4 Counselor Approvals and Limitations The council advancement committee is responsible for approval of all merit badge counselors before they provide services, although it is acceptable to delegate authority for this function to districts...."  STATUS: ROUTINELY IGNORED BY SCOUT EXECUTIVES.

 
"The sort of hands-on interactive experience described here, with personal coaching and guidance, is hardly ever achieved in any setting except when one counselor works directly with one Scout and his buddy, or with a very small group. Thus, this small-scale approach is the recommended best practice for merit badge instruction and requirement fulfillment. Units, districts, and councils should focus on providing the most direct merit badge experiences possible. Large group and web-based instruction, while perhaps efficient, do not measure up in terms of the desired outcomes with regard to learning and positive adult association."   STATUS: ROUTINELY IGNORED BY SCOUT EXECUTIVES.
 
"It is sometimes reported that Scouts who have received merit badges through group instructional settings have not fulfilled all the requirements. To offer a quality merit badge program, council and district advancement committees should ensure the following are in place for all group instructional events.
• A culture is established for merit badge group instructional events that partial completions are acceptable expected results.
• A guide or information sheet is distributed in advance of events that promotes the acceptability of partials, explains how merit badges can be finished after events, lists merit badge prerequisites, and provides other helpful information that will establish realistic expectations for the number of merit badges that can be earned at an event.
• Merit badge counselors are known to be registered and approved.
• Any guest experts or guest speakers, or others assisting who are not registered and approved as merit badge counselors, do not accept the responsibilities of, or behave as, merit badge counselors, either at a group instructional event or at any other time. Their service is temporary, not ongoing. • Counselors agree to sign off only requirements that Scouts have actually and personally completed.
• Counselors agree not to assume that stated prerequisites for an event have been completed without some level of evidence that the work has been done. Pictures and letters from other merit badge counselors or unit leaders are the best form of prerequisite documentation when the actual work done cannot be brought to the camp or site of the merit badge event.
• There is a mechanism for unit leaders or others to report concerns to a council advancement committee on summer camp merit badge programs, group instructional events, and any other merit badge counseling issues— especially in instances where it is believed BSA procedures are not followed. See 'Reporting Merit Badge Counseling Concerns,' 11.1.0.0." STATUS: ROUTINELY  IGNORED BY SCOUT EXECUTIVES IN WHOLE OR IN PART.
Edited by TAHAWK

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My hypothesis is the that ailment - parents and scouts shopping for a camp based on the MBs they offer

 

In our troop, parents have zero say on where summer camp will be.  The scouts are supposed to make that decision but in reality leadership strongly influences the decision making process.

 

My personal favorite solution is to go the Cub Scout camp route and offer activities rather than formal classes. On Cub camp staff, we didn't sign off on anything, as that was Akela's job. We just ran fun stuff. Boy Scout camps could do the same thing. Instead of Cooking MB class, they do sessions on various types of cooking - Dutch oven, backpacking stove, freezer bag. Instead of Kayaking and Rowing and Canoeing, there's instructional boating and open boating periods. Instead of Environmental Science, there are structured observation hikes and guided experiments on certain subjects.

Don't know if it would work but I really like this idea.  The scouts would still be accomplishing their requirements and hopefully have more fun in a less structured setting.  They would just need to meet with a local badge counselor willing to sign off on things they did at camp.

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I agree with what you have.  I sat in an out-of-council meeting in another part of my state a year ago and heard a leader (not sure of title) discussing this same issue.  It seems that everyone is aware of the problem but doesn't want to fix it or is afraid to.  It's been mentioned on this site plenty of times.

 

Below are a few random thoughts that are on more of a personal and parental level.  They may not address your thesis directly but maybe they will offer a different perspective.  I would guess that camps can feel pressure to provide more completed badges based on the below.

:

It's not only parents or scouts that have high expectations but many scout masters that emphasize the same thing.  To achieve Eagle rank scouts need badges and rank advancement.  If leadership's goal is to push everyone to the finish line as quickly as possible, you're going to have emphasis on badges.  Partial badges are frowned upon.    

 

I know a scout is supposed to work on badges independently but some troops rely on the scout going to camp each year to accomplish the required badges.  A scout may not have any badges or just one or two if he has not attended summer camp every year.  If rank advancement is the troop’s goal, the leadership will want a camp that covers as many badges as possible because it’s easiest.  Merit badge counselors are not always easy to find outside of camp either.    

 

Our scout's first year at camp, the wife and I had never heard of prerequisites or partials.  The only badge he had earned before his first year at camp was Fingerprinting.  He crossed over and there was a real learning curve for us as parents.  There was no info from troop leadership regarding any of this.   He went to a different camp his second year and they provided more info in their paperwork.  Parents need to be aware that badges will not be completed or require additional

work ahead of time in the camp literature.  I know people don't always read the paperwork but at least tell them.

 

For the past few years, the troop decided to go to a summer camp that costs approx. $500 when you add in fuel for drivers.  That's a lot of money to us and many other people.  I am not paying $500 for my son to have a personal vacation.  Right or wrong, I expect some kind of return on my investment.  I would assume that many parents feel the same way and have not been told how merit badges work so that leads to disappointment and frustration.  We have families with multiple scouts going to camp.  It can get expensive and then the workshops are taught by teens or the camp runs out of supplies. 

 

FYI – it appears you have a typo.  “It puts the onus on the Camp Director to certify that these standards are met, and that all badges earned where earned in compliance with the Guide to Advancementâ€

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Building on an idea from thrifty, I would like to propose the following:

 

 

 

Why offer merit badges at all? Let’s take this opportunity to reinforce the patrol method. Patrols should be offered the opportunity to sign up for small group activities offering hands on experiences. Instead of teaching the Cooking MB class, the staff can offer to do patrol sessions on various types of cooking, (Dutch oven, backpacking, propane stove) at their campsite, allowing the Scouts to prepare their own dinner meals. The waterfront area can offer Kayaking, Rowing and Canoeing, with patrols first signing up for an instructional period, then being allowed to practice what they have learned during open boating periods.

Or the patrol can sign up for a pioneering class. The scouts will arrive at the Pioneering site, and with the tools and materials at hand, receive instruction on a building a tower, camp chair or monkey bridge. Instead of a structured Nature class, a staffer can take the patrol on an observation hike, pointing out the various flora and wildlife found in the camp along the way. Units with New Scout patrols can be assigned a staffer who will work with them to complete the outdoor requirements for Scout thru First Class ranks. On the last afternoon, offer inter patrol activities where the patrols can compete to demonstrate what they have learned during the week.

Edited by cchoat
  • Upvote 1

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In our troop, parents have zero say on where summer camp will be. 

 

But then you can't control where the scout goes to camp either. My son, due to our existing family routine and traditions, often misses going to camp with his pack or troop and has many times tagged along with another troop, even in another district.

 

For the upcoming Fall Camporee, he will be going with another troop from another district as we will be on vacation during his own Camporee. Next summer, he might go to a camp out of state to try something new as well. I personally think he experiences even more growth by going with strangers than with friends but then I might be biased on that point.

 

While the leaders of your troop might be able to control where you go as a troop, scouts (and parents) are still free to attend the camp of their choice.

 

 

 

Building on an idea from thrifty, I would like to propose the following:

 

Why offer merit badges at all?

 

To go back to thrifty's point:

 

 

 I am not paying $500 for my son to have a personal vacation.  Right or wrong, I expect some kind of return on my investment. 

As long as MBs are required to advance, my hypothesis is that parents will continue to want some advancement credit for their money. I personally don't want to send my son to a week long camp only to find out that he needs to redo at home much of what he did at camp to get credit for advancement.

 

Otherwise, there are probably cheaper YMCA camps that are just as much fun with the same lack of advancement credit.

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"But then you can't control where the scout goes to camp either. My son, due to our existing family routine and traditions, often misses going to camp with his pack or troop and has many times tagged along with another troop, even in another district."


 


He apparently feels little connection with his patrol.  The troop exists for the administrative convenience of the patrols that make it up.

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"But then you can't control where the scout goes to camp either. My son, due to our existing family routine and traditions, often misses going to camp with his pack or troop and has many times tagged along with another troop, even in another district."

 

He apparently feels little connection with his patrol.  The troop exists for the administrative convenience of the patrols that make it up.

 

 

What about what I stated previously would make you think such was apparent? He was recently voted by his peers to be Patrol Leader so my assumption is that he is well connected to his patrol, despite his priority to spend time with his family at specific and pre-determined times of the year that might conflict with a certain scout camp.

 

Life long family traditions > a specific camp.

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Guys please, let's keep this friendly.

 

Anyway, I can understand that spending $500 dollars with nothing to show in return is a hard sell.  But "earning" merit badges at a camp simply for showing up and attending the classes, or worse, being instructed by a youth in a merit badge that he may have little knowledge of (reading from the MB book) or having the Scout not want to go back because he can go to school for free isn't worth $500 dollars in my opinion either. 

 

I know that this may be tilting at windmills, but I would at least like to try and improve the camp experience for Scouts. I am using the Patrol as it is a good way to size a class, as most patrols are from 6 to 8 young men.

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