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A program for young Eagles

Continuing the discussion from Where Do You See Scouting Membership In The Next 5 Years? What Can We Do To Grow The Program?:

The dynamic of our troop is changing. Our scouts will eagle younger. Many adult leaders are reluctant to let this become a norm; they need to understand how it will work. Delaying the ability to advance reduces the enjoyment of the program for scouts. Reaching eagle will be a step in the scouting process instead of the ultimate goal.

We want to create a program that capitalizes on the younger scout and has multiple leadership opportunities at the eagle level. We can see the need for more OA participation. What else can we do? We are also reviewing the ages and requirements for holding positions of responsibility. This will play into our new younger program.

I could not agree more and this is exactly how we run our troop. Well said. I am here to help anyone that is struggling to understand what this looks like. I have an 11 1/2 year old Star, almost Life Scout with 48 merit badges, serving as Troop Guide, and just elected to OA, young Scouts can do great things if we run the program as written, 1st class within the first year and off they go!

First class within the first year isn’t how the program’s written, though…

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The Guide to Advancement calls for 1-1.5 years.

“Assist the unit leader in establishing practices that will provide opportunities for each new Scout to achieve First Class rank within 12 to 18 months of joining, and Star rank soon thereafter.”

I understand what says, but it’s not clear that this is really the intent of the program. That is, G2A directs unit leadership to develop a program to “provide opportunities”, but it does not require that scouts make first class in first year (or first 18 months). Again, G2A points out in that advancement is a method, not the goal. My reading of those two statements together is that providing the opportunity to advance, and support for that advancement, is important. However, actually achieving that advancement is only part of the program. I think that putting undue emphasis on advancement may run off scouts who are less interested in the advancement part of the program, but more interested in other aspects like leadership, citizenship/stewardship, adult interaction, and outdoor activities.


Out of curiosity, how is your run? Are the adults telling the PLC what to do or is the PLC setting the agenda? It sounds like their is a lot of adult involvement in the Troop. I find myself sometimes wondering how much “Boy-Led” should occur. I can see a predominantly adult ran Troop becoming an “Eagle-Factory” because adults have the life skills to involve a regimental approach vs. the type of “Boy-Led” format the BSA wants which will not consistently give high outcomes because teen age boys are chaotic.

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Out of curiosity, yet you can already form an opinion on whether it is Scout or Adult led? It is Scout led, our goal is 80-20 youth to adult. We have a first year program come up with with Scout input and planning, the Troop Guide takes the lead on working with the new patrol and Scouts that are older facilitate the training, knots, lashings, and on and on. They also have their program features each month, this month is swimming, next is insect study, September is plant science, and October is American Heritage. The program is so easy to let youth run things, funny how we get questioned on Scout led (you do realize we have girls now, right, no longer “boy” anything") the troop across town that has only 3 Scouts left all over 16 thought as you do, that they should not be 1st class until 14, that 11 year olds can’t lead, and here they are 70 year history about to go away because leaders have their heals dug in, funny thing is that troop has the same camp out every month of every year on the second weekend of the month because that’s tradition, yet they do not see that that very thing is not Scout led, they get no say other than meal planning. This is the new way, time to embrace it and build leaders, an Eagle that gives back for 4 years gets you as much or more than the one that gets it with one month to spare.

I don’t think that most adults are opposed to scouts finishing their Eagle at any particular age. Rather, the objection I generally see/hear is to what @WilliamC mentioned: scouts who are artificially accelerated through the program, rather than those who accelerated themselves, as it were. Some of us were just fine as Eagles at 13. Other scouts I know who were significantly older wrapping up the requirements were “helped along” by a non-trivial amount of leader/parental involvement/pushing, and weren’t as ready/capable as they could have been if they had been more self-motivated. It’s unfortunate, but adult involvement it is a real concern/event.

I for sure would rather have a scout who gives back – whether or not he or she is an Eagle yet – than somebody of any age who does the equivalent of what we refer to as “sash and dash” in the OA. Whether that time is 5 weeks, 5 months, or 5 years, I think that the example of contributing to the unit is more important than the duration of that contribution. Would I rather see more time? Sure! However, what I least want to see is a scout who hits Eagle (or whatever their goal) and vanishes. While there may be many reasons it happens, often times what gets communicated (from talking to youth in scoutmaster conferences) is the appearance that the scouts are only in it for their own achievements, and then they’re gone.

I believe that Scouting is a continuum of experiences, not just a roadmap to a destination. We have had scouts who hadn’t yet reached First Class who were experts in navigation or knots, and ended up instructors for those skill sets. I’ve seen some “senior” scouts who regrettably can’t navigate their way out of a paper bag without instructions, either because they were “passed” without learning the skill, or they haven’t had enough practice to retain it.

Coming back to the OP’s question, I agree that encouraging the scouts to take up new challenges (e.g. officer or committee roles in OA chapter/lodge, or advanced training like NYLT and NAYLE) is a great way to keep them excited about scouting.

I would suggest also looking for ways to keep them involved at the unit level, by engaging them as “instructors”, JASMs or other skill-related positions where they can continue to contribute to the unit, and keep the goal of Eagle (not just earning the rank but modeling the behavior) in the minds of the other scouts. Adult association should not be the only way that servant leadership should be getting modeled.

I would also look at encouraging them to be actively involved in planning the troop and patrol programs, even if they’re not specifically in a leadership role. Having achieved the Eagle rank, they have likely been on a lot of hikes and campouts. Maybe they can help develop/enhance the program for teaching younger scouts these skills, or plan higher-skill-level events. I intentionally avoided the term High Adventure, because in some cases there are specific age limits that come into play with HA activities.

Most importantly, I would ask them what would motivate them to stay involved. It can be a great start to ask a bunch of “old folks in tan shirts” what they/we think, but ultimately the question is “What is the program that those scouts will want to participate in and lead?” That’s closely followed by “And what do we need to do to facilitate that program?”


Agreed on all your points. Understand, I am not saying all Scouts shoukd be Eagles at 12 or 13 in fact most will not. I do think we need to look at it more in a younger light, say 10.5 to 14 or 15, as most folks are on to more time consuming ventures once they hit high school, we can then look at how to work with all that gets them busy rather than against it. We must be flexible with the older Scouts, heck I see very few Scouts over 13 ar summer camp and I was at 4 weeks in the last two years. I don’t have all the answers, but it is getting younger for sure.

I don’t know… I don’t see that many Eagles younger than 16 in our local area.


I hope this doesn’t come out wrong, but the reason I am not a proponent of anything encouraging achieving Eagle early (accept for a Scout’s own self-motivation) is for a few reasons. The first is Merit Badges are about mastery unlike Cub Scouts “Do Your Best”. Some of the Eagle required like Personal Management and even the terminology in cooking is really advanced for an 11-13 Scout. Any Scouts (or parent) can take one of those worksheets and fill out the basic requirements and not touch the actual MB Pamphlet to get the Badge and move on. Have they actually learned anything or did they just look up the requirements to pass the course without learning anything. Unless the requirement says “from memory” or “demonstrate” it makes things easy for those that are just trying to get as many badges…The other reason is I want Scouts to stay in the program as long as possible. It’s my belief that it’s more like for early Eagle Scouts to leave the program early rather than stick around.

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I don’t know that I agree with this statement. Perhaps it’s a semantic issue for me, but mastery is beyond the skill level that I expect most youth (and many adults) are actually capable of. I certainly agree that “do your best” isn’t the standard, but I haven’t seen anything in the program literature to indicate that mastery is the expected outcome.

Consider First Aid merit badge requirement 6a: “If a sick or injured person must be moved, tell how you would determine the best method. Demonstrate this method.” There are dozens of things that go into determining whether or not to move an injured patient, how to move them, and when to wait for skilled medical assistance. The pamphlet talks about using the shoulder drag to move an injured person with a suspected spinal injury, but doesn’t explicitly describe how to get them into position for such a move if they aren’t already laying flat on their back. There is some vague reference to having bystanders or other scouts help with repositioning the victim, and to moving the body all at once to prevent further injury. However, there is no clear description or graphic for performing a log roll, which could very well be the first step in relocating an injured person suspected of spinal injuries who needs urgent transport and can’t want for EMS to arrive before being relocated (e.g. where the scene is too dangerous to leave the victim in place). Obviously the MB pamphlet can’t capture an entire EMT training course, but such professional training seems closer to “mastery” than what scouts are expected to achieve based on the BSA program.

I agree that the goal is for them to learn and demonstrate the required skills, but I don’t see that mastery is the performance criteria established by the BSA. Scouts are, fundamentally, still in the early stages of learning most of these skills, even when they’ve completed the requirement as written. I’d love to see mastery demonstrated, and I try to encourage ongoing practice and learning of skills not just in the MB curriculum (e.g. pursuing ARC certification for First Aid/CPR/AED as well as WARFA for scouts who meet the minimum ages for the certifying agency). However, the performance standard is not defined as mastery, unless I’ve been missing something in the program documents. I don’t know that anyone outside of a medical professional could fairly be said to have “mastered” many of the First Aid skill sets that the scouts are asked to demonstrate.

I have to admit that I would shed no tears at all if the various workbooks/worksheets vanished altogether. There are some useful tools (e.g. having a prepared chart for creating the menus, shopping list, and pricing for Cooking MB). They can also be helpful for scouts to collect their thoughts. However, it’s nothing that scout couldn’t do on their own with some paper and a pencil.

Clearly a scout who is continuously involved from when he or she is 11 through “aging out” will be involved longer than someone who gets Eagle at 13 and leaves a short time thereafter. However, I’ve seen a mixed bag on how long scouts hang around/participate, both as a scout and as an adult leader. I know younger scouts who have made Eagle and hung around for a couple of years or more after they made rank. Others have vanished abruptly. The most common age-related thing I’ve seen has been older scouts (17+ years old) coming back at the 11th hour after a year or multi-year hiatus to wrap up whatever they still need to do to make rank, often at the behest of their parents. I’ve seen that most scouts who make it to Eagle and hang around are the ones who are engaged by and involved in the program, not just the ones who happen to be older (or younger!). If our younger (or older!) scouts are dropping out of the program, whether with or without Eagle, the units need to figure out what’s actually going on in those specific cases. Are we no longer meeting their needs or addressing their interests (i.e. the unit has changed)? Are their interests different than what’s available in scouting (i.e. their interests have changed)? Has their available time been exceeded, and they have to drop something? It’s hard to broad-brush a lot of these things, unfortunately. I can see how someone with different experiences would come to a different conclusion, reinforcing to me that “all scouting is local”.

I agree “Mastery” was probably not the best choice. When I was typing it sounded good in my head…Ha Ha. I was trying to make the point that Eagle Merit Badges are pretty advanced and the skills that they teach are so important and useful that I want to see Scouts really take something later in life from these Badges…Perhaps “Proficiency” or “Adeptness” would be a little better description.


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