Managing 40+ kids in one large group is enough to make anyone want to jump off a cliff. At best, it would turn us into school marms, and scouting should be about adventure, not school. So to help us and especially to help the boys, the troop is subdivided into three or more Patrols, consisting of a number of boys led by a Patrol Leader. The best way to think about patrols is to think of Harry Potter and Hogwarts. Lord Robert Baden-Powell who founded Boy Scouting was British, after all! If Troop 8 is Hogwarts, then the patrols are the Houses in the school, like Gryffindor and Hufflepuff and Slytherin. Each has its own personality and proud traditions.
When your son joins the troop, the older boys and adult leaders will do the "sorting hat" routine with your help, and welcome him into a patrol that we feel will fit his interests and personality. His patrol will be his home in Troop 8, and he'll progress from a young first year to an experienced older scout by following the example and guidance of the older boys in the patrol. As he moves up in rank, he in turn will become one of those older scout examples and mentors for younger boys, who will think he is so cool! For summer camp and other events, he may even help his patrol earn patrol points toward the "house cup" - the top patrol award.
Each patrol is headed by a couple of older boys, who serve the patrol as Patrol Leader and assistants. These boys are selected by the older boys and the members of the patrol for their ability, maturity, and readiness to lead others. The Hogwarts equivalent would be "prefects." When your son has any questions about the troop, his one-stop shop for answers will be the Patrol Leader of his patrol.
In boy scouting unlike Cub Scouts and most other youth programs, we believe in youth leadership. The real organizers, planners, and leaders are the boys themselves, represented by their Patrol Leaders Council (PLC) and the chairman of the board, the Senior Patrol Leader (SPL). Scouting teaches responsibility and leadership by giving responsibility and leadership of its programs to the boys. They decide on the program, schedule and plan the events, publish the newsletters, and set many of the rules by which the troop runs.
This notion of boy leadership distinguishes scouting from many other youth programs. If you're new to scouting at this level, it may take some getting used to. Troops run more like a "pick up game" than an adult-run league, because we feel it's important for kids to learn how to organize a team, officiate & settle disputes, decide on positions and work out strategies. We don't take that away from them by having the adults do it all. By making kids manage themselves as a group in that way, they learn a level of judgment, responsibility, and teamwork that is much deeper than what can be achieved in adult-run activities.
This does mean that troop operations will carry a distinct "kid-print" and not always be "organized" in an adult way. It also means that troop boys end up being better at managing themselves and others than most other young adults, because they have had the real-life experience of doing it themselves.
The Patrol Leader's Council sets the annual calendar and budget for the troop from September to the following August. Individual boy leaders are then assigned jobs as Trip Leader(s) for each of the outings and activities that have been planned. Those boys handle planning and reservations for their trips, assisted by an adult Assistant Scoutmaster who serves as Field Leader. Every few weeks, the PLC meets and reviews plans for upcoming events. The patrol leaders then work with their patrols and individual boys to be ready for the event by planning menus, doing skills instruction, and getting gear ready. This division of labor allows us to run a wealth of different outings during the year. While one boy is working with one adult to plan the October backpacking trip, another is working with a different adult on the November campout. Divide and conquer! Because of this, for any given event, the Trip Leader(s) and Field Leader are likely to know more about the event than the Scoutmaster.