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Virtual Scouting upends Patrol Method and GTA

I am seeing Scouts in my Troop and district taking Merit Badge classes and Trail to First Class instruction offered online by my and other councils. Some from across the country. These classes do not require any prior consultation or counseling with the Scoutmaster. As Scoutmasters virtual offerings are robbing us of the opportunity to work with our Scouts and to live up to our obligations as stated on the blue card as well as getting in the way of us working on virtual patrol method advancement opportunities.

How can we encourage councils to support unit led activities instead of council driven events?


Hi, @DavidKlein1,

I’ll say that part of the reason that our district started doing district-level virtual events was because we were getting so many complaints (from parents and others) that units were not meeting virtually, and part of it was because many of our in-person district-level events (e.g. Camporee, merit badge weekends) had to be postponed into the unknown future, based on local health guidance. For example, as an OA chapter adviser, I was hearing back from unit leaders that they didn’t want to schedule OA unit elections until after they could meet in person again, because they were not meeting virtually. I heard from UCs that the units they serve were not meeting virtually, and they couldn’t get them to do so. Having sat in the virtual district meetings where our event (Camp Wingit) was being developed, and then helped teach at the event, there was absolutely no intent to undermine unit-level work. Frankly, the idea seems rather like a suggestion that summer camps, in-person merit badge weekends/Scout Fairs, or other district- or council-operated in-person events somehow undermine the unit program or unit leadership.

I would probably start by communicating with my scouts and unit families, rather than the district and council. Let them know/remind them that your unit is still running a program, even if it’s somewhat limited due to the current restrictions on in-person activities. Let them know that the expectations that the scouts come to you or your designee(s) before starting a new merit badge are unchanged. At the same time, I would make sure that I asked them to reach out to me as the unit leader (or to the Committee Chair, if they aren’t comfortable telling me) with concerns about the current unit program, and what might be motivating them to go outside the unit to district, council, or out-of-council, opportunities. Review the responses (and your program) critically to see it from the scouts’ and parents’ perspectives. They may not see the same thing that you’re seeing, since the perspectives can be so different.

Afterward, or perhaps in parallel, I would reach out to my unit commissioner (or the district commish, if your UC isn’t very responsive) with my concerns. I’d ask them to bring the concerns to the district committee, and give specific suggestions about how the district and/or council can help support unit-level programs during isolation. You might even see if you could speak to the committee directly, so that you can best advocate your position, rather than trying to express it entirely through your UC. I don’t know anyone on our district committee who would rather see district- or council-run scouting in lieu of unit-run scouting. What we’ve been doing is meant entirely as a supplement.


I am not sure this will help with your issue, but might be a suggestion. One of my scouts signed up in March to do a few merit badges with another council (I believe it was in Florida, we are in Idaho). Upon registration, their sign-up process included an email sent to me, the Scoutmaster, to sign off saying I was aware of the scout working on the merit badges. This might be a suggestion.


@DavidKlein1, I commend your desire to tilt at windmills. My best suggestion (and a very long hard trail on which there will be many obstacles) is to join the district committee and insist that all activities be registered by patrol. (PL’s and SM’s signature required before accepting any payment.)

@Qwazse is right! Join the district committee – it’s only an hour a week!**

** per scout …


Wait…we don’t have any scouts on our district committee. does that mean it doesn’t take any time at all? :rofl:

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The solution to this is really simple.

If you want youth to support unit led activities instead of council driven events, then you have to have unit led activities that youth want to support so they don’t go to council driven events.

I can’t speak to any activities on any individual unit such as David’s (the original poster). I can speak to what we have cooking and are experiencing: we are finding a tremendous hunger from youth to do all kinds of stuff in scouting: merit badges, Nova, advancement… just to name a few.

There is no football game or track meet. No band concert. No debate tournament. No chess club meeting. No church youth group.

Right now SCOUTING is pretty much the only choice nationwide for youth, and youth are craving what we have to offer. I would love it if individual units would step up and provide this program, but largely they are not.

As an example at roundtable just a few weeks ago, I was greeted by about 30 scoutmasters who are looking for something to do, a program for their youth, something to keep their interest… they’ve already done two virtual campouts and are out of ideas at that point. I then pulled out my list of what all we had going on and asked for their help.

Try these on for size:

  • Virtual aviation ground school, Explorer Post 8000
  • HAM radio license classes, Ship 9
  • Venturing/Sea Scout Nova Classes, Ship 7007
  • ILSS training, National Capital Area Council Quarterdeck

What programs are you offering your youth?

Please recognize that our youth WANT your leadership and WANT your program input. As a key indicator, just this month we chartered a new Sea Scout Ship in Wichita, Kansas. During a pandemic. In Wichita.

New Sea Scout Ship. in Wichita. During a pandemic.

We have another ready to go in Des Moines, already meeting and having a solid program. We’re further looking to add ships in central Kansas, southern Missouri, and Kearney, Nebraska.

So back to the question: How come everyone’s going to all these programs over there? The answer probably lies in your program calendar. Do you have something exciting?

So let me challenge you: Start a program. Do a course. Encourage your youth. Pick a merit badge and go to town!

Here’s a place to get started: https://blog.scoutingmagazine.org/2020/03/20/merit-badges-for-social-distancing/


Our Troop is doing a weekly Zoom meeting at the time of our regularly scheduled Troop meeting that is started by the SPL and sometimes they break off into patrols and sometimes they all stay together for a merit badge. It just depends, but we ask the scouts what they want and are trying our best to accommodate their request.

That being said, we are also encouraging them to do online merit badge classes and/or Trail to Eagle type stuff. For the Merit Badge classes, they get a virtual blue card that they then talk to the Scoutmaster about and he signs off on it. Same with the virtual Trail to Eagle. They can do the class stuff but they still have to have the Scoutmaster sign before it is recorded with our Troop.

My son is doing 2 virtual summer camps, one with a Florida council and another with a Carolina Council. We are in Texas. Since the camp he was scheduled to attend was cancelled, this will help fill that void for him.


As to my original post, I am on the District Committee and the Council Advancement Committee already. I see this as a Scouting wide issue, as Scout from California are signing up for classes offered in Florida and all points in between. In many cases it is parent-driven and they will look for low hanging fruit which means Merit-Badge-Mania.

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But someone from the Troop has to look at it and put it in advancement for the Scout. The leader has a chance to discuss with the Scout at that point if he hasn’t do so previously.

@JeanannGoss you can’t really council about something that is already done. All you can do at that point is review. Plus, GTA calls for a discussion both before and after.

By the way, I don’t mean to imply that the local unit leaders should not be involved. I’d rather they take charge. I am pointing out form a practical point of view, there is a huge vacancy of activities.

No, but you have ALL the Scouts in the district… That would work out to something like 600 hours per week in my District.


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I am the opposite, we are small 19 kids in two troops but at times it will be nice if the parents sign the kids up ( expleelly for activities with no payments)

I would be thrilled if my boys were taking Merit badges anywhere. I think a Council based program would be better vetted than most Summer Camp badges. I get tired of a 15/16 year old having authority of a topic over which they can’t have the years of experience that an Adult Counsellor possesses. Come on, we all sign the blue cards before camp and cross our fingers. I have had more than enough arguments with Area Director’s because Scouts got badges they didn’t attend or the projects the completed were terrible. But any interest in Scouting is better than none.


There has to be a dedication and commitment on the part of the Council/sponsor and the MBC to the Guide to Advancement. And at some point or another National Advancement needs to step in. And of course, you always have the right to issue a Reporting Merit Badge Counseling Concerns request.

There is one council that shall remain nameless here that proudly boasts for its virutal merit badge program the unit leader meeting is NOT required. (“Scoutmaster approval is not OFFICIALLY required, but it is a REALLY good idea.”)

I will tell you as someone who is helping to lead my Council’s efforts, we have had two Zoom sessions with the MBCs and stated unequivocally that prior to the first session and/or at the first session each scout is required to a) present a blue card on screen b) scan and email or mail the blue card to the MBC or c) get a virtual signature by the unit lead into Scoutbook. The other alternative that has grown (and I believe is consistent with the Guide to Advancement) is where the Scout talks with the unit leader and the unit leader sends an email to the MBC because they can’t mail, email, or get into Scoutbook prior to the start of the virtual merit badge.

Also bear in mind that while your unit may be having virtual opportunities, that is NOT the case for all units who have effectively gone defunct. For some scouts, these virtual events are the only mechanism for scouting they have.

In closing, I disagree that “Virtual Scouting upends Patrol Method and GTA.” Poorly developed and executed Virtual Scouting, however, does.


@WilliamsburgScouter I have no problem with your restating. I think we’re essentially saying the same thing, you with more nuance.

I have seen same thing for the Supernova program in my Council. We are in Calif and had one mom have her son work with a Mentor in W Virginia. That guy did a good job. Other moms had their kids work with someone from a nearby Council. That person wouldn’t have been approved as a Mentor in my Council. In both cases I contacted the Council to make sure the person had the qualifications. Yes, in both cases it was the parents that helped make the situation interesting.
As noted in other posts there might be some who are looking for what one called ‘low hanging fruit.’ In most cases it’s the parents helping that along. Some directed contact with them might help. Or, at least let them know you know what they are doing.
I think it would be suitable for the SM to say that they needed a contact number in order to be able to contact the person acting as MB Counselor. Then a conversation about how requirements are going to being met can take place. It’s pretty much like being at summer camp and watching to see what is going on.

Not to be even more cynical, but you do realize that if it’s a ‘Council’ mb class (and the guide to scouting has always said classes aren’t the best way to do mb’s) that the Council is using this as another way to raise funds. All Councils are hurting for funds now and this is one more way to generate them.
My son is on a zoom meeting one-on-one right now with a mb counselor. The lockdown is no excuse to not stay with the original intent of the mb program.

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Is that one-on-one with you in the room paying attention, so as to meet YPT standards?

And you have to ask that?
Let’s see, I am in the Council where the YPT program was developed, my service stars add up to 25, I’ve been SM and am ASM, have a District position, and am a Eagle Scout.
What do you think?

A bit off topic.

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