If you had asked me two months ago how my AOL Bridging plan was coming along, I would’ve told you I was prepared for our big April event. I had, after all, been dreaming about the day my den of Cub Scouts would cross into the care of their new Troops since they first donned their Tiger neckerchiefs. A bittersweet event, for sure, but one I knew from experience was tremendously important. My Scouts deserved the pomp and circumstance, the ceremony steeped in Scouting tradition, the gorgeous Arrow of Light plaques and arrows, their brand new neckerchiefs, the fellowship among their peers, their parents pride. I envisioned flaming arrows, candle light, and memory boards for each of my 17 Scouts. I was ready to order the cupcakes. I’d prepared myself for the flood of emotions.
Then came Covid-19. This Saturday, April 25th, I should be proudly ushering my den into this next, wonderful chapter of their Scouting stories and enjoying the last of my duties as their Den Leader and Cubmaster. Instead, I’m spending the day in my pj’s, drinking too much coffee, getting caught up on ScoutBook reporting, and wondering what day it is. I’m planning my very last den meeting of all time, to take place over Zoom tonight, and trying to get my emotions in check before then.
Those of us bridging our Scouts have the unique experience of feeling utterly jipped in so many ways. Our AOLs are 5th graders who are already feeling the loss of celebrating their last year in elementary school before taking the plunge into middle school, wishing they could have one last summer break party before life gets too serious, enjoying their graduation, missing integral opportunities to become familiar with the giant, complicated schools they’ll hopefully attend in the fall. Missing out on all of the important transitional steps that take them from Cub Scouts in a Pack to Scouts in a Troop is just another blow, and if I can be selfish for a moment, it stinks for everyone involved.
Like any good Scout, it’s up to us to process the disappointment, button up those uniform shirts, and find ways to Be Prepared for this next, new opportunity to learn and grow.
If your Cub Scout unit has ceased all activity because of this virus, it’s okay. We’re all juggling so much and, at some point, something has to give. But I implore you all, but especially those with outgoing AOLs, to start those gears and find ways to get back to Scouting.
Why? Well, for one, your families have paid dues and should have a program available to them, no matter what it looks like. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Stay in contact with your den families and offer up simple ways to stay involved in Scouting. (Try my Cub Scout Activities: Adventuring from Home Rank Challenges for some simple inspiration.) Get parents involved in their child’s Scouting adventures, encourage them to log adventure completions and advancement in ScoutBook, tap into their creativity however you can.
You can get more involved and start meeting virtually. Hosting virtual den meetings twice a month is a great option for staying in touch, keeping your Scouts involved, and advancing as you were hoping to when you were enjoying a normal schedule. (Check out my posts Scouting Tech: Online Conferencing Tools for Virtual Meetings, Cub Scout Activities: How to Run a Virtual Pack Meeting, and Scouting Tech: Youth Protection in a Virtual World.)
Look wide, and even when you think you are looking wide – look wider still.– Lord Robert Baden-Powell
Arrows of Light need a little bit more. They need for us to Look Wider Still. It’s easy to throw up your hands in defeat and accept that everything is different, nothing is what you thought it would be, and it would just be better for everyone if we all waited it out. Well, that’s not what Scouts do. We are built to be prepared for anything, and if Baden-Powell were alive today, he’d tell us this is what we’ve been working for all these years. Our AOL’s have learned how to see the potential in every situation and plan around it. What if the weather changes? We’re ready. What if the food plan didn’t work out? We have a plan. What if there’s a virus going around? We know how to stay clean. What if… yeah, we’ve got it! You can throw anything at a Scout and they have a solution. This situation is absolutely no different.
Throughout it’s history, Scouts have endured tremendous difficulties. In WWI, Scouts were used as message runners and coast watchers. They collected peach and other fruit and nut pits to be used to create charcoal for gas masks. They sold over $352 million in war bonds, and $101 million in War Saving Stamps. They grew foods at home through the War Garden program to help feed the troops. As their leaders were called to serve their country, Scouts continued on with the program and worked hard to serve their communities. In the second World War, they served in civil defense, acting again as messengers, providing a national service to their community as regular means of communication were disrupted. Credited for their special skills, Scouts have been called to action many times over the years. Historically, we assemble and cheerfully show a united front in times of hardship. Hosting some virtual meetings and doubling-down on our commitment to these incredible youth is truly the very least we can do considering the great lengths Scouts have gone to be of service in the past.
Preparing our Arrows of Light to Join a Troop
First, have your Pack commit to a full AOL Bridging Ceremony as soon as we’re able to meet again. This is more important than I can convey.
Next, reach out to the Troops your Scouts have committed to and have them join you virtually, each hosting their own transition meeting for the Scouts who will bridge into their unit. They should discuss:
- how Troop membership is different from Pack membership
- virtual meeting dates and times
- immediate expectations
- their patrol(s) structure(s), to include youth leadership
- a plan for advancement (see below)
- upcoming special events (I imagine summer camps will be canceled, so think into the fall at the earliest)
Then, spend one or more virtual den meeting wrapping up Cub Scout adventures or awards. Allow your Scouts to talk to one another, to ask questions, to air any concerns or worries, and counsel them through their nerves. They’re ready! We’re the ones who need the nudge.
Preparing our AOL’s (and their PL’s) for Scout Rank
My gigantic den of 17 AOL’s are moving together into one patrol in one local Troop. We met with Troop leadership virtually to discuss the structure of their patrol, who their youth leadership would be, when they would meet virtually, and how they would use this wild time to earn their very first rank.
Their patrol will be led by one patrol leader (PL) and two assistant patrol leaders (APL). The PL has scheduled weekly Zoom meetings, 7pm to 8:30pm. He’s provided the Scouts in his patrol with:
- the incredible 30-Day Scout Rank Challenge, updated with specific meeting dates and links to online resources (like the Cyber Chip Requirements for Grades 6-8)
- a copy of the Scout Rank Requirements
- a fillable copy of the Annual Health and Medical Form, Parts A-C
The PL has the following materials in his leadership binder and/or on his computer:
- a Patrol Roster – Attendance Report (Google DOC)
- a Scout Rank Log (Google DOC) for each of the Scouts in his patrol
- Patrol Meeting Plan Templates (Google DOC)
- a copy of the 30-Day Scout Rank Challenge (PDF)
- a Simple Patrol Meeting Opening (PPT)
Don’t forget to ask your Troop for a copy of the Scouts BSA Patrol Leader Handbook, which can also be purchased at your local Scout Shop or online at https://www.scoutshop.org/patrol-leader-handbook-647788.html.
Their first meeting is simple: simple flag ceremony, the Lord’s Prayer, roll call, introductions, an overview of the Scout rank and 30-day Challenge, and patrol business. They’ll start thinking of their patrol name and yell, and each Scout can work on flag design ideas. The PL will set a standard for uniforming and let Scouts know there will be periodic checks. Scouts will be tasked with working to complete days 1-7 on the 30-Day Challenge. Before closing out for the night, they can play a virtual game or perform a task together, like learning a new knot. A simple closing, to include a closing thought by the PL and/or APLs about the importance of Scouting, wraps up the meeting.
Their second meeting is as follows: simple flag ceremony, the Lord’s Prayer, roll call, and patrol business. They will establish their patrol name and yell, share flag ideas, and discuss what they each completed in the last week. They’ll be tasked with working to complete days 8-14 on the 30-Day Challenge. Before closing out for the night, they can play a virtual game or perform a task together, like learning a new knot. A simple closing, to include a closing thought by the PL and/or APLs about the importance of Scouting, wraps up the meeting.
And so on.
As his Scouts progress, the PL will prepare his patrol for virtual Scoutmaster Conferences by explaining the process and scheduling conferences with the Troop’s adult leadership.
Tips for the PL’s and APL’s
If you’re planning to lead the new patrol of young Scouts, there are a few things you’ll need to remember. First and foremost, you are their official leadership team and are, therefore, their first real experience in Scouting as part of a youth-led Troop. It’s up to you to start them off on the right foot through:
- understanding the technology and Youth Protection
- proper uniforming
- Scout Spirit and the 12 Points of the Scout Law
The program is very different these days – you are in the unique and difficult position of welcoming new Scouts into a virtual program. Because we aren’t meeting in person right now, your attitude and engagement determines if these Scouts will physically join you when we’re cleared to do so.
Understanding the Technology and Youth Protection
Consider which program you want to use to meet virtually, and become well-versed in how to share your desktop, mute attendees, and all of the other features that will make your virtual meeting a success. Many programs offer quick tutorials, but the best way to truly understand the technology you’re using is to practice using it before your big debut.
Remember your Youth Protection Training. As a Patrol Leader, you should have completed youth training programs to help you better understand the leadership roles in your Troop. Take some time to read my post about Scouting Tech: Youth Protection in a Virtual World for some insight into how to protect your patrol (and yourself) as you meet virtually.
Uniforming is one of the methods of Scouting and serves many purposes; to include creating equality in your unit, identification of each youth as an official Scout, achievement recognition, and commitment to the ideals and purposes of Scouting (including a Duty to God, Duty to Country, and commitment to your Troop). Baden-Powell said, “The uniform makes for brotherhood, since when universally adopted, it covers up all differences of class and country.” He also said, “Show me a poorly uniformed Troop and I’ll show you a poorly uniformed leader.” Show up to your virtual meetings in full uniform, shirt tucked-in, neckerchief neatly rolled. It’s tempting to wear the uniform shirt up top and pj pants on bottom, but that doesn’t help you get into a true leadership frame of mind. Get serious – wear your uniform properly and perform regular uniform checks for all of the members in your patrol.
Scout Spirit and the 12 Points of the Scout Law
It’s easy to get relaxed online – especially when adult leadership isn’t present. Being properly uniformed will help you feel that Scout Spirit! Show enthusiasm for the program, cheerfully greet the Scouts in your patrol, and show an interest in what they have to say. Be kind and courteous, show them the respect they deserve, and foster a sense of joy and brotherhood. During your opening, truly consider all 12 Points of the Scout Law and take them to heart as you begin leading your new Scouts. A lackluster meeting isn’t going to encourage Scouts to come back next week!
Yep, you guessed it. BE PREPARED! Utilize the free downloads linked above, create a binder or folder on your computer, maintain accurate records, and prepare for your meetings ahead of time. You truly cannot “wing it” with these new Scouts and expect anyone – including yourself – to advance and succeed. This is an awesome opportunity you have here, so make sure you take full advantage of it.
PL’s, assign duties to your APL’s and communicate with them in a timely and clear manner so they can also plan properly. Do you need a game that can be played virtually through your meeting software? Task your APL to find games that can be played in that format. Do you need to teach a special skill, like a knot? Your APL can lead the instruction and help your Scouts learn this new skill. You should find ways to give them leadership opportunities and they are capable of being helpful. Maybe your youth leadership team should meet together separately to plan your upcoming meetings together, or maybe you have a post-meeting review to talk about what you covered and what should be done in the upcoming week.
PS: You’re Going to Be Great, and We’re Here For You!
If you need help, reach out to the adult leadership in your Troop. You’re not expected to do all of this on your own. Trust me, when a youth leader reaches out for help, adult leadership will make themselves available. Trust yourself, you’re going to be great and we’re all truly proud of you for taking a leadership role in a time where absolutely everything is different.
Cubmaster’s Minute for Outgoing AOL Leadership
Take a moment to grieve what you personally are missing because of these changes to our program. Allow yourself time to think on everything you had planned for your Scouts, all of the kind words you had written to send them off on their new adventure as members of a Troop, all the sweet moments you shared over the years. You’re allowed to do that, it’s perfectly acceptable to be “selfish” and grieve what didn’t work out the way you’d dreamed it for the last four or five years. Now, think about how wonderful it is that your Scouts are at this exciting turning point in their Scouting careers and pat yourself on the back for teaching them how to prepare for the unexpected. You did a TERRIFIC JOB, you should be so proud of yourself. You’re allowed to do that, too. You are allowed to tell yourself that you did a great job leading those Scouts, planning meeting after meeting, and tracking each adventure. If none of us get the opportunity to send these Scouts off the way we’d imagined, that’s okay. You were and always will be a tremendous influence in the lives of those Scouts and their families. Congratulations! Thank you for your service to Scouting!
Yours in Scouting,
Looking for a Gift for Outgoing AOL Leadership?
A personalized hiking stave is the perfect gift for those intrepid, adventurous leaders who are on to their next adventure! Learn how to make your own with my tutorial at Pack-to-Troop Transitions: Personalized Hiking Staves for Outgoing AOL Leadership.
Need Help Transferring Outgoing AOLs to Troops in ScoutBook?
It’s finally happened. Those adorable Tigers (or Lions) of yesterday have completed the Cub Scout program and are bursting out of the nest, soaring toward their next big adventure. We usher them out in ceremony and are sometimes so distracted by the to-do lists and the emotions that we forget to wrap up the digital loose ends. The last thing we can do as leaders to ensure their success at the Troop level is to take great care with their records and deliver them safely and soundly into their new Unit’s ScoutBook account. Read more in my post entitled Pack-to-Troop Transitions: Final Reporting and Unit Transfers in ScoutBook.
Use Zoom Breakout Rooms for Survival Situation Games
Foster Scout Spirit and team work by dropping your patrol into survival situations and seeing how they would react. By using Zoom Breakout Rooms, you can split your patrol into separate groups to discuss their found items and strategies for survival before presenting to the full group. It’s a great opportunity to use the tech you have available and teach them a thing or two about being prepared for anything! Scouting Tech: Using Zoom Breakout Rooms for Survival Situation Games