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A good middle school program but lousy HS program

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Gern wrote: "As I watched my son navigate through his scouting, it became apparent to me that boy scouting is a really good middle school program and a lousy HS program."


I'm very intrigued by this statement, which encapsulated a lot of what I've been thinking about and observing. I know that without the lodge leadership opportunities in the OA and the camaraderie of summer camp staff, I'd probably have dropped out long before I hit 18. Doing the same old thing year after year in my troop got old really quickly.


So what makes Scouting a lousy high school program - or not? And what can we do to make it better? Is Venturing the answer? Are females and fumes simply too strong to fight, and thus we should give up? What's kept your older Scouts in the program?

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I've been thinking about this lately, too. Seems to me that the needs and tastes of a lot of 11-13 year olds are quite different from the needs and tastes of older boys. Younger boys want, need, and sometimes even crave, direction. They typically lack the physical, emotional, and social skills to function well in a scouting environment unless somebody is actively teaching them.


That someone might be "older boys" but in many cases, it is actually adults - perhaps because there's a paucity of older boys involved.


But that becomes self-fulfilling, because older boys typically want, need, and crave independence, a chance to try out their wings, and opportunities to push themselves further without adults constantly telling them what to do. And adults, as we all know, often have a hard time backing off to give older boys that space.


Wash, rinse, repeat.



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I too feel it depends on the adults running the program. with our old SM's in the troop older boys stayed in, as they knew how to open up the opportunities for their independance. With the current SM, we have a bottom heavy troop, with a sprinkling of some of the old regime of boys over 18-21 age group, who just sit around with little to do and complain about the current program.


Currently the SM has a difficult time delegating to older boys or other adult leaders.


but I also think that it is up to the boys, they could be in a great troop that offers older boys opportunity, yet if they get tunnel vision to get the eagle award, once that challenge is over they don't look around to see that there are new and different challenges in the troop. Their goal is done, and they don't know what else to do in the troop.


But a good troop, with good leaders can challange the boys past 18, and they will stay engaged even while in college.

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Geez, I sure seem to be able to spin off threads don't I? ;)


Put yourself in the boyz shoes for a moment. At 11, what is happening to you? You are starting to get some independence from family, you are starting to come out of your shell and enthusiastically want to try new things, in a safe and organized program. Boy scouting is great for that. It meets middle school boys needs.


Now put yourself in a 16 year olds shoes. What's your prime motivator? You have already claimed independence from your parents (at least you think you have), you want to choose your own friends, plan your own activities, your own path. You want to be cool.

You definitely don't want to hang out with little kids. Continuing year after year of the same thing is not on your agenda. The program you loved as a kid, now is a burden because of adult expectations.


Fumes and perfumes? They are just symptoms of the boy coming of age and his priorities changing.


Venturing? Been there, done that. Even bought and drank the Koolaid. I have yet to see a thriving venture crew that follows the published BSA Venture program. The "successful" venture crews I've interacted with had one thing in common, an outdoorsy female sibling of a Boy Scout and a very active father running it.

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I think yeh do see some fine troops out there that keep almost all their older boys around right through high school and into college. I do, however, think that there are relatively few of 'em compared to the middle-school-focused programs that Gern describes, and that the BSA Boy Scouting program has largely (and somewhat deliberately) shifted toward being a middle-school appropriate program exclusively.


I disagree with the common saw that the older boys don't want to be around the younger boys. In da troops that seem to be successful keeping older boys, that's not at all the case. The older fellows like the challenge and responsibility of working with the younger guys. Real responsibility is something that teens crave, but they easily see through "fake" responsibility and make-work / babysitting.


So usually when yeh have a middle-school-focused troop it's because the adults don't know how to work with the high school kids. Probably they've set up the rapid-advancement thing and such so that the middle school program is lively, but they don't know how to make da switch as a lad grows. Sorta like some cub scout leaders can't get their brains to switch to a middle school mindset.


Da key ingredient for high schoolers seems to be genuine challenge and responsibility. I think many of the Venturing Crews don't get that, either, eh? They just become a boy scouting program for older girls, for whom that is a challenge of sorts because they didn't have a good middle school outdoor program. Some Boy Scout leaders also think that "high adventure" trips are the key, but I don't agree with that either. Lots of high adventure trips are just packaged vacations not real challenges. And yeh can have all kinds of real challenges without ever going "high adventure."


But da thing is that in order to have a high-school-like level of challenge, it does take more time, eh? Same as high school sports take more time and commitment than middle school sports, or high school theater takes more time and commitment than middle school theater. No self-respecting teen wants to keep doing the same level of thing they did in middle school, no matter what the activity is.





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So Beav, where can one find the secret to keeping older boys interested? You say you've seen it. I haven't. You've already said high adventure isn't it and I will agree with you, it ain't the answer. Been there, done that. What key component in the BSA training are MOST BSA leaders missing that would inspire a scout to go from being a 11 year old to an aging out 18 year old?


And why even worry about it? Make your program a great middle school program. Just because we allow membership to 18, doesn't mean we should focus on retaining them to then. I think we get wrapped around the axle when we shouldn't be. As I said before, to most, scouting is not a lifelong commitment. We are not a cult. or are we? Hmmmmm?

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Maybe this is why Scouting in the UK "moves the scouts along" to Explorers at 14 so they are in a program with Scouts aged 14-18.


However, I have heard Scout leaders in the UK say that most younger boys (11-14, those in the Scouting program) are not ready to "lead their own program."


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When our troop had "it", and when I have seen other troops that retain their older boys, it is truely having the faith in the older boys to run the program.. True faith.. Give them the keys to the truck so to speak.


Alot of troops just pay lip service to giving the boys responsibility, behind the scenes the SM is still running the show, "guiding" in an authoritative way, and the boy lead is just window dressing. It is a shame.


If the older boys are feeling manipulated, or as Beavah said feel like they are babysitting the younger boys they are going to loose interest.


If it truely IS their program, then if they are bored or don't feel challenged enough, guess who gets to change it to be of interest?.. THEY DO.. So how do THEY want to shake up THEIR program?


Some of it may be high adventure if that is what the older boys want to go for, but sometimes it is just a different way of doing things, like I know we had two older boys who were planning to go into the army, the program turned into a direction of drills that were sort of like an ROTC camp or something, they got a military father in to teach them very smart marching drills. It was what the older boys were interested in at the time. Let the older boys lead the program and design it to their intrests (as long as within the guidelines, we did have to turn down the scout interested in paintball wars from trying to get the troop involved).


At least that has always been my take on the successful Troop or Crew. Other people I am sure can add to it.

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I'm going to give a perspective form my expereince.


We usually had a Leadership Corps of 5-10 members. Yes we worked with the troop, but also did their own thing. too. Primary job was to work with the PLs and teach the basic skills. We also judged the interpatrol competitions b/c it wasn't fair for us to compete against them ;)


Other things did come up when I went to HS: JROTC Drill Team, Chess Team, Cheerleading, as well as the job I had to take to help support myself once I was old enough to work.Yep Scouting became kinda dull and other challenges were there in other programs. But I and my peers remained active because a sense of obligation to the troop,to pass on what we learned and be examples for the newer scouts.


Once I got Eagle, I looked for more challenges within the BSA. Hearing the Sea Explorer stories of one of my ASMs, I joined that program. But when my expectations were not met after a year, I got re involved with the OA. The OA was what reinvigorated me and gave me new challenges.


I think what folks are looking for is challenges and adventure, at any age. If you don't provide it, they start looking elsewhere.

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We are a top heavy troop. The troop roster has 2/3 in high school. For the last three years the webelos have come, looked at our program and determined its too advanced. Its too mature for their boys. They then go to the more school looking and highly adult run troop across town.


Its killing our youth membership and our adult volunteer support as well. The Webelos parent's expectations are that Boy Scouts is Webelos III (or more acurately Tiger V). I have been unable to pursued, cajole or convince these Webelos parents that a boy led program doesn't turn the weekly troop meeting into a MB class room.


So to tie back into the original thread, we do not have a good middle school program in our troop and its hurting membership.






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I agree that presenting a set of challenges is a key to keeping older boys in scouting, the question is which ones. Lets be realistic here by the age of 15 or 16 boys no longer look at running around with 11-13 year olds as fun, even if they are given leadership roles, and lets not forget the girl issue. The quality of much of the BSA leadership training for adults and kids deserves much of the blame. Kudu is correct when he says that the boy scout program has been "dumbed down" for decades now, as well as an evergrowing pool of undertrained and non trained leadership. No matter what you may think of online training it is a supplemental training method, at best, and not a primary one. Unless the boys at National wake up and get their heads out of their collective as*es this problem will only get worse with more and more boys dropping out and troops going under. You can't just read a book on brain surgery and then go out and perform it, you need a great deal of training and refresher training first, the same is true with scouting and yet for years now we just give a leader a book send him to a four hour class, which is now online, and think he is ready to take a group of boys out into the wilderness camping. It is almost laughable if the results weren't so disasterous and potentially dangerous. Then we wonder why the older boys leave the program by 15/16, but it really isn't rocket science if you think about it.

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I hate to talk about our program as an example of the right way to do things because it comes off as bragging and I dont like to brag, but it seems several topics today are contradictory to our program when I was scoutmaster. When I left as Scoutmaster 43 percent of the 93 scouts on the roster were 14 and older. We averaged an Eagle every two months and the average age of our eagles was 16.5 years old.


The main requirement for a program that older scouts like to stay in is physical and mental challenge of all scouts of all ages. A middle school troop is one where the scouts basically learn scouts skills, go to a couple summer camps and then repeat. Its the repeat that drives older scouts away. I agree with Beavh that older scouts do like to work with younger scouts, they love it in fact. Typically our scout who just left the office of SPLs volunteered to be a Troop Guide because they want to keep serving other scouts. For some reason they feel a special drive to work with the younger scouts. That is not typical of scout 14 and younger. They havent matured to the point yet.


For those of us who have worked in troops with older scouts, watching older scouts running the troop is pure pleasure. In another discussion today, there is the assumption that scouting doesnt have any real goals for the boys to strive for. No game to win, not concert to play; Not so, the goal of scouts is to live out dreams. Does the scout recruiter talk about all the fun in learning how to tie knots and earn merit badges? No, they typically talk about camping, canoeing, backpacking, sailing, using a knife and learning how to use and axe. These are things that feed dreams. In my last year of Scoutmaster, my SPL was also the Assistant Crew Leader in a Backpacking Crew (is that an ASPL?). He was also an officer in the OA chapter, and he virtually planned a two week backpacking high adventure trek to Montana for 2 men and 10 scouts all by himself. He had told me that the last year of scouting for him was a dream he had for a couple of years. I preached in adult training that Scouting is a place where dreams can come true. Its up to the adults to get out of the boys way. What are your scouts dreams? That is what their goals are.


The problem of working with scouts to strive for their dreams is that we have to work with each scout individually. WE have to get to know each one well enough that we know how to get out of their way. My best SPL hated advancement. He was never so happy as he was when he was leading, he was never so miserable as he was when working on advancement. So, we learn to shut up about working toward that Eagle. By the way, for the band discussion, while that scout was SPL, he belong to the school marching band, school Jazz Band, and church worship band. He made work. Another scout set a goal of getting all the Merit Badges the BSA offered, he hated leadership. Strangely, but both these guys where OA District Chiefs. You just have to get them started and then get out of the way.


And that reminds me for some of the nay sayers of goals and character, The only thing that limits a boy's dream is for adults to push their dreams on the boy. You want older scouts to hang around, get out of their way. Get out of the habit of saying you CANT do that because.. Instead, say show me how, or lets give that a try, or Im open to that new idea, where can we start?.


>>Da key ingredient for high schoolers seems to be genuine challenge and responsibility. I think many of the Venturing Crews don't get that, either, eh?

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We've been shopping troops lately, as my oldest will be crossing over soon. We've seen a lot of middle school troops, and a couple filled out all the way to 18. One thing I've noticed, is that even if the boys say it isn't high adventure they want, then why do all the troops I see with excited, all-ages scouts offer real trips and activities? The "middle school" troops Ive seen all go camping at the same two or three places each month, do the same old service projects every year, and overall look like something that anyone, kid or adult, would get bored with in no time flat. Many of these troops appear boy-run, but the inspiration isn't there.


Of the two troops we saw I would call successful, they were constantly doing something different. They camped in different places each month, had at least one further afield summer trip (one once a year, one every two years), pursued a variety of service projects, and overall it looked like one program year never mirrored another. On top of that, the troops were boy-led, with the boys coming up with these new ideas, which supplied new challenges such as coming up with and implementing fundraising ideas to pay for the more expensive trips or activities.


I think without supplying adventure and new things, it becomes pretty hard to supply challenges where older boys can test themselves. Too many of the troops I've seen recently are stuck in a rut and in desperate need of inspiration. It's easy for the adults to say the boys don't want adventure. It's the adults that have to use up vacation time, spend time away from their spouse, drive to the location. The boys may not be craving adventure exactly, they are craving the challenges of doing something new and outside their scope of experience.


My son is leaning toward one of the two adventure-based troops. He says he's scared of them, because he doesn't now how to do all that they do, but at the same time, he is drawn to them for the same reasons. It's his choice, but knowing that he dreams of learning to kayak, I'm sure whatever troop he joins will be getting some fresh inspiration from him if he can keep his excitement up long enough.


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