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Ways to Improve the Cub Scout Program ... Ideas Collected by the Cub Leader Trainer

Comments from the District Cub Leader Trainer, Bert Bender (feedback and questions are welcomed at cubleadertraining@southfultonscouting.com):

FYI, for the general advice for leaders and parents about how to deliver Cub Scout advancement with these two sets of requirements, and a practical overview of the changes for den leaders and parents, see "11/30/16 Cub Scout Advancement Changes".  That page gives a summary of the purposes and professed impact of the changes.  This page is more about the future of Cub Scouting, and about how this came about.

Background:  With this 11/30/16 set of requirements, it's worth a review of the process of how we got here.

The 2011-2015 National Strategic Plan and June 1, 2015 Handbook Rollout:  A new Cub Scout Advancement Program became effective on June 1, 2015 (see this overview of the changes).  That effort was an end product of the 2011-2015 National Strategic Plan for the Boy Scouts of America that included several public progress reports, and in various reports leaders, and many members, of the teams working on the new requirements and structure were publicized.  The work was done by Strategic Plan Team 411 - Relevant and Dynamic Programming, which came to be called the "411 Task Force".  In early 2010 Russ Hunsaker of the Great Salt Lake Council was selected as the chair of the task force to address the goal.  More on the "411 Task Force" as it came to be known:

  • Divided into six teams, the 411 Task Force worked for over two years leading the assessment of BSA Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs, designing the necessary changes to meet the goal and beginning the development of the support materials.  
  • The steps outlined included the following:
    • Assessment: Comparing current program to defined objectives
    • Design: Defining desired future outcomes and structure of the program
    • Development: Writing and development of youth and adult leader materials
    • Production: Final editing, production layout, and printing/online development
    • Launch: Communications, training, and material distribution
  • The Cub Scout Advancement "Development" work was ultimately conducted mainly by a "Cub Adventure Team".  More about them in this rollout summary and in the FAQs that were published.  All other parts of the "411 Task Force" continued to review the materials during Development and Production and Launch.  

As all of the Cub Scout Advancement language and structure changed, new Cub Scout Handbooks and Den Leader Guides were rolled out effective June 1, 2015.    

The 11/30/2016 Modification Announcement:  Modification of those Cub Scout Advancement requirements was announced on November 30, 2016 (see the initial Blog post and comments, plus this December 3 FAQ blog post ... the announced changes are linked through the BSA Program Updates page).  The Advancement Modifications summary indicates:

  • "feedback suggests that the new design of the Cub Scout program did successfully address many original concerns, but also indicates an opportunity for further modifications ....  A task force was formed to draft modifications to the Cub Scout Program that would address this feedback."  
  • That summary states that "Guidance and input was from a wide variety of stakeholder groups and individuals. Contributors and reviewers included representatives from faith-based organizations and cultural groups as well as BSA volunteers with specific program expertise, recent grassroots experience, and current engagement in regional and national BSA leadership."
  • Beyond that statement, not much information exists about the task force membership as of this writing.

What Next -- Do We Wait For More From National, or Work With National On What Will Be in Handbooks and Leader Guides?  As these changes are simply posted by the BSA, with "relevant changes to handbook content taking place in a subsequent editions" (and, one would assume, relevant changes to Leader Guides, since one goal of the modification is some condensing of the number of meetings or sessions in the Den Leader Guides), it would appear that Scouters and Parents in the field have two choices:

  1. Await further announcements from National sources, presumably from the "task force" that was put together to draft these modifications, or
  2. Review these modifications, and submit ideas to submit these to the BSA, at the BSA Member Care Contact Center: myscouting@scouting.org or 972.580.2489, and through other channels, such as your local Scout Executive.  

This trainer believes that the opportunity to make further improvements exists and that since changes are in play (clearly for Handbooks and Leader Guides) now is the time to suggest changes to make the program better ... and that feedback is a gift.  

  • With that in mind, the pages linked here are offered to further "strengthen and support the new program as well as to assist the youth, families, and volunteers engaged in Cub Scouting", which is the professed goal of the new modifications.  
  • It is hoped that those involved in the modification of the Cub Scout requirements will appreciate the thoughtful suggestions, support, and engagement of all those contributing ideas through these pages, and other feedback from these BSA volunteers with specific program expertise, recent grassroots experience, and current engagement in program delivery.  

The Goal: Help Den Leaders Help Scouts.  All of these ideas are geared to helping den leaders, because they are the essential program role for success in Cub Scouting.  

  • As the Cub Scout writer Bill Smith always noted: "In Cub Scouting, you’re either a den leader or your main job is to help den leaders. There is no other choice."  
  • Many of us have noted that the key to retention is having great den leaders, so we need to do what we can to help den leaders.
  • So helping den leaders is what we -- and the National Volunteer Service Center -- should be doing. 

Specific Ideas to Improve the Cub Scout Program.  See the following pages as they develop here with ideas to help den leaders, and help Scouts, and help improve the Cub Scouting program:

  • Bobcat Adventure Plans -- See the Adventure Plans on that page, which we've been offering to anyone ... this implementation helps increase Cub advancement and so greater availability of plans like should correlate to higher member satisfaction and higher retention.
  • Put All Den Leader Guides Online and Free -- The most critical role in Cub Scouting is the Den Leader ... and the most critical task of the Den Leader is coordinating the delivery of strong program in Den activities.  So giving free wide access, Adventure by Adventure, to the Den Leader Guides is user-friendly, as it helps Den Leaders fit all the Adventures required for advancement into their program year by sharing the plans with other parents, assistants, helpers, guest leaders, Den Chiefs, other Boy Scouts, and others who help deliver strong Den program.  By sharing this access, and getting more people involved leading Den activities, advancement would be less challenged by information barriers or over-loading the Den Leader.
  • One Chartered Organization / One Committee -- Because Cub Scouting is leader-intensive, and it has a goal of preparing boys for Boy Scouting, it seems that creating an organizational structure that supports Troop / Pack, and even Troop / Crew / Team / Pack, committee support can create a more regular environment for Chartered Organizations and Scout Unit(s) Committees to support each other in meaningful ways for the benefit of all ... and keep the adults in the Troop supportive of the families following along in the Pack.
  • Adjust the “outdoor activity” elements -- gosh, changing from (1) attending campouts (unless your Chartered Org doesn't permit it), down to (2) just "attend an outdoor activity" is really removing a key outcome that most if not all desire to see as an outcome of involvement in Scouting.  So, yes, let's address the concern about "Overnight camping is a significant hurdle for some", but let's build in some camping and overnighter options and alternatives that help achieve the outcomes desired from Cub Scout participation, rather than relegate camping to just an option that can be ignored.
  • Allow Den Camping on same safety/training terms as Pack Camping (here is a great way to safely, and in a fun way, support the methods of Cub Scouting and help achieve an advancement hurdle that was seen as sometimes difficult and a significant hurdle for some).
  • Allow Webelos Scouts to Attend Camporees that invite them and are planned for them.  Support Webelos to Boy Scout transition by allowing camporees to (if they want to) invite Webelos Scouts to camp with them.  Again, if invited.  
  • Emphasis on “Activities”, not “Meetings” -- We're already promoting this in our pages, including, where families haven't found "the Den Leader" yet, using a "go fun places / do fun things" approach to den formation, plus the idea of TOPRATE Dens ... both of these address an issue that should be of great concern, that getting great Den Leaders is key to delivery of the program, and improving member satisfaction and increasing retention.  The Cub Scout program sort of "assumes" that a Den will have a great Den Leader, but ... the program doesn't necessarily create a path to getting there if the Den Leader doesn't exist yet for a Den of families.  And not having an able, engaged Den Leader to deliver program to the dozens of boys registered at signup nights is the well-known but not widely discussed number one problem in retention -- and it is the most difficult to solve, which may be why it gets less focus than signups themselves.
    • A further idea is found in "Why Pack Meetings?", questioning whether it makes sense for every pack to think they need to do Pack Meetings.  If they are super fun and don't lead to leader burnout, great!  But maybe there are better ways to use leader time and make pack time fun.  Like go fun places.  
    • Along those lines "Lighten Leader Loads" gets to the heart of the problem with a lot of den leader recruitment ... if we describe "what cub scouting is" as meet every week, plus pack meeting, plus leader meeting, plus roundtable, plus another activity, plus training, plus prepare for all your meetings -- it's hard to get people to be den leaders.  Meeting on a more relaxed schedule will work fine, and avoid leader burnout.  Of course, if parents are fired up and share the load, meet every week and more!
  • Adventure by Adventure Comments.  Gosh, while some with "engagement in regional and national BSA leadership" were aware that the 2015 Advancement Program was going to change, the electronic publishing of the changes shows some real opportunity to (1) achieve the goals of the this revision team, and (2) do it better, allowing even more flexibility and less confusion with current handbooks and Den Leader Guides.  Some of the ideas will involve restoring some "alternate" requirements as fun Handbook/Guide activities that families can continue to choose, and, in a few cases, allowing Alternates between Required and Elective Adventures -- and now that the concept of modifications and improvements is revealed, perhaps those involved in the modification of the Cub Scout requirements will appreciate the thoughtful suggestions, support, and engagement of all those contributing ideas through these pages, and other feedback from these BSA volunteers with specific program expertise, recent grassroots experience, and current engagement in program delivery.

More to come ... and if you like these ideas, feel free to submit these to the BSA, at the BSA Member Care Contact Center: myscouting@scouting.org or 972.580.2489.  If you don't, that's fine ... let them know at the BSA Member Care Contact Center: myscouting@scouting.org or 972.580.2489.

And if you don't like these ideas, or want to offer changes / upgrades / fixes / corrections, I'm all ears and eager to learn and improve ... feel free to email me at cubleadertraining@southfultonscouting.com, because I'm interested in feedback, new ideas, and making these ideas and the Scouting program better ... including fixing these ideas if I've got it wrong.  Thanks in advance.