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program review meeting tomorrow evening

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Our troop's CC has arranged for the adult leadership (both committee and SM/ASMs) to get together for a program review and "new ideas" meeting. As there is significant division within the troop over how well the program is meeting the boys' needs and the CC and SM are on opposite sides of that divide, this should be interesting.


The basic division is over the extent to which the program is appropriate for first year scouts vs. older scouts (13+ and 1st class or higher). The troop currently has about 40 boys, of whom 8 or 9 are first years, 2 or 3 are in their 2nd or 3rd year, and the rest are older. Everyone except the first year scouts has earned 1st Class or higher rank. Recruitment of new scouts crossing over from Webelos is steady (at least 10-15 boys/year - last year, closer to 20) but first year retention is poor.


This distribution of experienced/new people is reflected in the adult leadership too. There are relatively few parents of younger boys on either the committee or as ASMs because so many of those boys have left the troop. There are A LOT of ASMs and committee members who have been with the troop for many years and in fact, while new parents are told that they're welcome to sign up as leaders, there are really very few "openings" for them to fill anyway.


Having "survived" almost a year in this troop as a parent and committee member, I can see some reasons why the first-year retention problems exist. Among them:

1. lack of effective communication with new parents about how the troop operates and what is expected from both them and their sons;

2. lack of effective communication with new scouts about how the troop differs from cub scout packs, what their new responsibilities are, and how they might begin to go about meeting these;

3. lack of a first year program to teach the new boys basic scout skills;

4. lack of camaraderie or mentoring relationships between younger and older scouts (or younger scouts and ASMs), beyond the patrol leaders selected to lead the NSPs;

5. apparent lack of understanding on the part of some adult leaders regarding the difficulty/challenge of activities for the younger vs. older boys, and consequent frustration with the lack of participation and "scout spirit" on the part of the younger boys;

6. lack of advancement for younger scouts (2 of the 1st years have earned tenderfoot and the rest are "scouts" except for one who hasn't earned the scout rank yet; 2 have earned any merit badges - though this is more a symptom rather than a cause of poor retention)

7. Cross over around here happens in February so the first few campouts tend to be in the worst possible weather of the year - for which most of the new scouts are inadequately prepared in terms of both skill and gear.


The CC's son has served as a patrol leader for one of the NSPs over the last year and perhaps this is why the CC is in agreement that we need to revamp the way we deal with younger scouts and their parents.


From the other side, there is strenuous disagreement. The SM points out that the boys choose the activities (mostly - there are 3-4 campouts, several service projects, and a couple of fundraisers that are "tradition" for this troop) in their annual planning meeting (happens in April/May, 2/3 months after cross-over - though last year, due to poor communication, not many of the new boys attended), and so the program reflects what the boys want to do. He is certainly correct in the fact that the troop has a solid older boy program, including an active venture patrol, that keeps the more experienced scouts engaged. That's a real strength for the troop. Additionally, those boys who do make it past the first year tend to stick around for a long time.


Beyond that, there's some personal defensiveness. The SM has made the argument that adversity builds character, and that the younger scouts will "get with the program" eventually on their own - or not. The onus for seeking out instruction, help, mentoring, etc. is placed on the younger scouts because "this is not a webelos 3 troop." A longtime committee member recently stated that those boys who quit during their first year "just aren't scouting material" (this made my jaw drop, I must admit.)


These are, for the most part, really nice people who have a lot to share with the boys. And thankfully I'm not the CC here! However, I do have an interest in helping this conversation to progress along a positive and constructive route, rather than finger pointing.


One thing I've been working on to try to bridge the communication gap is a revised version of the troop's "Quick Tips" FAQ for new families. I'll be taking a draft of that to the meeting tomorrow for discussion. Beyond that, however, any thoughts on how to increase the likelihood of a useful discussion? Wish me luck...



A good old bobwhite too!


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Remember that feedback is a gift! :) Listen, actively. :)


Lisa, use your judgment which you've demonstrated here in many posts. Listen for the middle ground. Listen for implementation of the Aims and Methods.


A chartering number of 40, year to year, means something IS working. If that is a declining number from previous years, then something needs to be looked at and/or changed.



A Good Old Owl, Too


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Yah, emphasize da good things like John suggests. There must be a lot of things "going right" for the older boys and more seasoned leaders. Spend at least twice as long on those things as on anything else.


Then a brainstorm session on 1st year retention will be more welcome, and a real partnership to spruce up one area of a decent program.



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Scoutldr, honestly I don't know what the PLC thinks. What I do know is that we have another group of about 15 webelos crossing over in about a month's time. In each of the last three years this troop has lost well over 50% of its first year scouts. If the last year's experience is typical,a large portion of the difficulties stem from poor communication, planning and leadership among the adults. The PLC may certainly have a role here, but basic guidelines and philosophy for a successful first year program need to originate with and be actively supported by the adult leadership too. Right now that's an area of intense debate among the adults and it would be a bit unfair to expect the PLC to resolve that debate.





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What I was trying to say was that the PLC should be responsible for planning the program...a program that meets the needs of ALL scouts...not just the older ones. All under the gentle guiding of the SM, of course. New Scout patrols should have an ASM and Troop Guide assigned and the PLs are elected from among the newbies (the TG mentors the PL, rather than BEING the PL). The new scout program should be based around the goal of First Class First Year, i.e., basic scout skills, with very little emphasis, if any, on merit badges. Every scout who crosses over should be expected to attend summer camp their first year, taking part in the First year camper program which most camps offer in one form or another. This will get them a long way toward first class and they can even earn a couple of MB as well to whet their appetite. The theory being that most scouts drop out before they make First Class. The senior scouts need to understand that their primary function in the troop is to lead, train and mentor the younger scouts. Reward them with some high-adventure opportunities just for them. What interests 11 year olds is not the same that interests 17 year olds. It sounds like your troop is not "boy led", and the adults are disagreeing over how THEY should run the troop. Or perhaps I have misinterpreted...

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Older boys are a real asset to any troop. Keep the focus on the young guys. There is mixed feelings about, this but I will bring it up as a suggestion anyway as it has worked well for our troop; purpose that a "New Scout Patrols" , "Baden Powell Patrols", "Eaglebound Patrols" or whatever you want to call them, be formed with the new Webelos crossing over. An ASM should be assigned specifically to them, as well as an "older scout" Patrol Advisor.


These patrols should focus on teaching the basic skills (T-1st which the older boys get bored with) as well as getting them used to the Patrol Method. The ASM (with a lot of help from the Patrol Advisor) will have to do lot of the Patrol planning, but by rotating the Patrol jobs every couple months (Patrol Leader, Patrol Quartermaster etc.) the boys will get a better feeling of how the Troop and Patrol work, and all of the new parents will be together for information purposes.


We keep our young guys in these patrols for about 9 months when we have our Fall elections and then they are merged in to the patrols with the other guys. Last year we lost 1 out of 18, and the year before 3 out of 26.


It is a huge leap from Webelos to Boy Scouts, and most often the boys don't know what questions to ask to seek out help. In a way it is a Webelos 3 patrol, but just like when they went from Bears to Webelos they need a little transition orientation.


Give it a shot and Good Luck!!



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Only eight weeks until this Webelos leader will see his boys and himself crossover to a troop. They will form a new patrol, an older scout will be assigned their troop guide, and an ASM for New Patrols will supervise their activities to insure they are doing what is needed to adjust to their unit successfully.


It just so happens their troop guide will be their former den chief and the ASM will be their former den leader. I feel like my den chief and I are changing jobs with him teaching them and me helping out (only more from an advisory role). I'm sure there'll be more for me to learn as well though.



A good ole Owl too...

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As a follow up to my original post :


We had our program review meeting and it seems like it went well. The CC set it up as a brainstorming session, more or less. He started out by going around the room and asking each person to contribute one thing they like about how the troop has been going, and one specific thing they want to see changed, preferably without duplication. No discussion/debate until later.


Once we had our list of changes up on the wall, we individually ranked (check marks) the top few things we want the troop to work on improving in the coming months, and we agreed we would focus on the five items that got the most votes. Surprisingly (to me at least), there was pretty widespread agreement on the major issues, most of which revolved around communication, teaching/mentoring, and the first year program.


We then took one issue at a time and worked on developing specific plans for how to improve that area. Although we didn't make it through everything, it was a really good start. Hopefully implementation will go as smoothly!


Aside from the fact that people seemed to share the same basic concerns more broadly than I had expected, I was happy to see that the mood was positive (I had worried it would be a lot more bruising) and it wasn't just a complaint session. Tangible ideas that can really be put into practice came out of this.


The specific change I proposed our troop makes is to get away from appointing a long-term PL for the new scout patrols, and assign a troop guide as a mentor instead. As currently configured, the NSPs were given a PL when they formed a year ago, and that PL will still be serving at least until September of this year, 20 months later. He also ends up doing most everything for the patrol, instead of helping the new guys learn the ropes themselves. From what other leaders said last night, this is less a function of the personalities of the PLs for our current NSPs and more a function of "how it has always been" in the troop. There seems to be widespread agreement that this is one place where tradition shouldn't be maintained though.


This isn't the only change I hope to see in the 1st yr program, but as we were trying to avoid duplication of ideas, this was the one I proposed. I want to thank all those folks here who have taken time to discuss how your first year program works in various threads over the last few months. Your feedback has been really helpful to me in terms of coming up with specific, manageable ways that our troop might change their first year program.


Also we had a great philisophical discussion revolving around the aims/methods, the meaning of "boy led" (scoutldr, I raised the point you made about the role of the PLC in all of this, to see what people's views were. Turns out there's a divergence regarding how these abstract ideas translate into action - particularly the "boy led" part, but overall most of the adults were of the view that what we were talking about is not in the domain of the PLC. Having heard several viewpoints expressed I don't know *where* I am on that right now - gives me something to think about for the future though.)


So I'm hopeful. Knock on wood, we'll be able to carry it through.



A good old bobwhite too!

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There is a lot of good input here. Glad to hear your meeting went fairly well. Has your troop considered putting together a CD or handout on "How Boy Scouts is different from Cub Scouts"? What about having your CC attend a PLC as an observer? What about the SPL attending a Committee Meeting? (Adult leaders MUST give him proper respect!) Do you have a SA assigned to assist this group? Would your PLC consider staging campouts to assist the younger ones?


Specifically, in our troop, the older boys each pair up with a new Webelos Scout to assist them for the first several campouts. They don't necessarily become tent partners, but they work beside them every step. They teach them how to set up tents, how to set up the kitchen, how to cook, etc. They have put together signs to post regarding "What does it mean to pitch camp?", etc. They realize older scouts helped them when they were new and this is passing the spirit on. They also host a campout in the spring, close to home, where they teach them many of the skills for rank advancement. They take them on a 5-mile hike, teach compass skills, pioneering skills, etc. They take pride in their buddy's advancement. And then, certainly, they are rewarded by their own fun and more challenging outings.


In regards to "boy-led", I believe that anything that the boys can do, they should be allowed and encouraged to do. The only time adults should interfere is if there is a safety issue or problems with cost, reality, or sponsors. Example: They probably can't put together a trip to Hawaii in the next 3 weeks. Hang-gliding is out of the question. We are trying to develop leaders...they may need mentors, but our job is not to plan their activities...it is to teach them to plan appropriately.


Good Luck

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Maybe I'm missing something, but everything Lisa mentioned as an area for improvement in her initial post is covered in our training and in the mainstream BSA pubs (not the arcane stuff that us unwashed volunteers can't readily get our hands on).


Communicating with new parents? Look at the recruiting section in the SM Handbook -- it gives an outline for a new parents orientation.


New Scout transition? That's in the SM Handbook too, and in the SPL Handbook, all laid out under the First Year program, and so is the older Scout relationship, the advancement program, etc., etc.


The term "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" comes to mind...



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overall most of the adults were of the view that what we were talking about is not in the domain of the PLC


Dat's too bad.


You should add that to your list of things to change.


Given a patient mentor and folks willing to listen, the kids would probably come up with a very similar Strengths/Weaknesses list. But theirs would be based on the better data set of living in the program, and they might surprise you with an issue you never thought of.


They might not have as much outside experience to bring to the "solutions" part of the discussion, but they'd be pretty good at evaluating and choosing between options.


I'd encourage your committee to continue their good work, but to spend as much time on the "strengths" list as the "weaknesses" list. Managing weaknesses is necessary, but growing your strengths is much more fun, and ultimately has a bigger impact on your program.


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Lest we forget,


Both the Chartered Partner and the Troop Committee can give "left and right boundaries" to the SM as the program officer.


Boundaries may be simple: Gas is expensive; the driving radius for monthly campouts is N miles.


Boundaries may be more complicated: Establishing consequences when boys are unruly beyond what an SPL can handle comes to mind.


I'm about to leave my slot at CC. SPL came to my committee meetings. I went to his PLC meetings. I strongly advocate that to any incoming CC.


We also need to go back to Lisa's original post: Program Officer (SM) disagreed with the committee. Who works for who? SM works for COR and CC, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. When there are policy disconnects, what happened in Lisa's troop (Friendly airing of concerns at the table) resulted in potential for change.


Lisa, let us know how results flow, now that you've had the meeting, please.



A Good Old Owl Too

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Where there any Scout present at this meeting? If so, did they have any input? If not, why not?


This sounds similar to the planning sessions we had when I was a Cubmaster and the adults made all the decisions for the Pack.


Ed Mori

Troop 1

1 Peter 4:10

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