This section of our introduction is dedicated to parents who are considering Boy Scouting in Troop 8 or some other program as an activity for their son. It will tell you a bit about the scouting program overall, as well as about our Troop 8 program here at St. Thomas.
Scouting is a worldwide movement, and our brother and sister scouts can be found in over 160 countries. The program has much the same character wherever you go. Scouting is a youth-led outdoor adventure game that teaches outdoor skills, self-reliance, service, citizenship, and values along the way. We appeal to boys' sense of adventure and challenge, and through that challenge them to become better individuals. Scouts enter the program as "tenderfeet", and learn from the older older scouts. As they develop confidence and skills, they take more responsibility for running activities and teaching younger scouts, until they "graduate" as skilled outdoorsmen and adults.
Here in the U.S., the Boy Scouts of America provides scouting program resources to different community agencies and groups so that they can offer a scouting program as one part of their youth work. You might think of this as a sort of franchising arrangement - the BSA licenses the program, but the organization owns and operates the troop to its own standards and goals. Troop 8 is owned and operated by St. Thomas the Apostle (Roman Catholic) Church, and along with our elementary school, CCD, and teen programs is part of our youth ministry to the community. Like the elementary school, Troop 8 is open to non-Catholic boys on an equal basis, provided their families are comfortable with our mission & values.
We think the most important thing in looking for a troop is to find one that is a "good fit" for your son and your family. In the next sections we'll talk about the range of different troops, where Troop 8 falls in that range, and what sort of kids have found us to be a happy home over the years. If it turns out that Troop 8 doesn't seem like it will work for you, we are happy to help you find other troops in the area or other youth programs that might work well.
In the Boy Scouts of America scouting program, there are 8 "Methods" used to achieve our goals of citizenship, character, and fitness. St. Thomas Troop 8 has an additional goal of "learning," which also sets us apart. How each troop implements the 8 methods and what emphasis they place on each determines the character of the troop. Some troops, for example, will place a larger emphasis on the outdoor adventure program, while others will focus more on uniforming and advancement/award programs.
The Eight Methods Are:
The ideals and values contained in the Scout Oath and Law. The St. Thomas Troop 8 program is firmly grounded in ideals and values, but in a quiet way. While we use the Scout Oath and Law as tools to get boys to think about such things, our view of ethics and values in the Catholic tradition goes well beyond such simplistic sayings. We quietly encourage boys to deepen their knowledge and thought about such issues, and explore their own faith.
Scouting provides a wonderful venue for boys to learn from "role models" of older men and women who are not their parents, and who can be at once friends and mentors. Troop 8 values this adult mentoring very highly, and actively seeks out younger 20- and 30-something leaders because the boys can identify with them. Boys and adult leaders are usually on a first-name basis, and form lasting friendships. More than a third of our former scouts found their careers because of the examples and mentoring of adult leaders in the troop.
Probably the most recognized feature of the scouting program, the Advancement Method sets goals and challenges for boys to work toward in order to get recognition through higher rank or "merit badges" that demonstrate special skill. Troop 8 uses the BSA Advancement program and has a number of boys who make Eagle Scout, but it would not be considered a central feature of our program. Our style is to work more toward internal than external motivation, and to be very rigorous about demanding high performance before awards are given. Troops that emphasize Advancement will have their program planned around getting badges, and a well-defined system to guide boys to earn things in order and on-time (and often as rapidly as possible).
In Boy Scouting, the youth grow by taking responsibility. Troop 8 emphasizes youth leadership very strongly. Our youth choose the activities, set the budget for the year, determine safety plans, do instruction, and run the show. Boys who graduate from the program are usually so accustomed to leading that they are able to step directly into outdoor guiding jobs. Troops that do not emphasize youth leadership as much will have adults doing some or all of these tasks.
One of the ways that Scouting teaches youth leaders is by breaking the troop up into smaller gangs of boys, led by one or more Patrol Leaders. Patrols can be compared to "houses" like Gryffindor in the Harry Potter novels - groupings of boys of similar character who live and work together, with older boys serving as "prefects" and examples. Troop 8 runs a very well-developed patrol method structure, which keeps patrols intact from the moment a boy joins. Troops that do not emphasize patrol method will establish shorter-term, same-age, or temporary patrols for logistics reasons, but the boys won't really get to know each other or rely on patrol leadership.
The outdoors is our playground and adventures are our motivation in Scouting. Troop 8 is extremely active in the outdoors, with a year-round schedule. A number of our leaders have National Outdoor Leadership School experience or serve as leaders in the University of Michigan's Outdoor Adventure program. We were the first troop in the area to implement Leave-No-Trace camping practice, and introduce boys to "technical" outdoor skills ranging from rock and ice climbing to telemark skiing to whitewater kayaking. Troops that do not emphasize the outdoors as much will tend to run monthly car-camping outings to local parks and scout "camporees," and perhaps not run a full program in the summer or winter months.
One of the things that distinguishes scouts worldwide is a uniform. The uniform helps identify us as brothers and sisters in a common movement no matter what troop or nation we live in, or how well-off we are. Troop 8 uses the scout uniform for some events, especially when we're with other scouts or involved in a formal activity, but we would not be considered a strongly uniformed troop. It is not uncommon for boys to come from school or sports out of uniform for a meeting, and on outings we expect appropriate outdoor-wear rather than the uniform. A more strongly uniformed troop will insist on more rigid uniform compliance in a military-style fashion, including wearing full uniform for travel and some camping.
Well, this isn't really a BSA method, but it seems to belong here. Troop 8 encourages boys to participate in a variety of service with the troop. Some of that is service to younger scouts within the program, but we also do a variety of work for different community agencies. On the scale of troops, we'd be in the middle of the road in terms of service, with a few more active service troops doing major long-term projects or specializing in things like disaster relief.
Compared to other troops, you'll find that we offer one of the most diverse and challenging outdoor programs, drawing from the curriculum and methods of the National Outdoor Leadership School and the Experiential Education Association. We place a greater emphasis on skills development and learning than many troops, and work very hard to use youth participant leadership in patrols to help boys develop not only skills, but judgment and decision-making confidence. Our adult leaders are dedicated friends and mentors. Your son will be exposed to the best in outdoor ethic and skills, with a quiet but firm subtext of personal responsibilities and values.
However, we are not an Advancement-focused program, and do not offer "rapid advancement" the way some troops do. We do not participate in the BSA's First Class Rank in a year program. We have a number of Eagle Scouts, but they work long and hard to earn Eagle by age 17, representing the achievement of a talented young man. And if you're looking for a military-style approach to uniforming and oaths/laws, we will not be a good fit.
Scouting here at St. Thomas is a great program, but no one can offer “one size fits all” for kids. We share your desire to find a program which matches your son's interests and needs. A scout troop should be a happy "home away from home" and a fun adventure. Over the years, we've observed some trends in the boys who find us to be a happy home. There have been exceptions, of course, but these trends might help as you are looking at programs.
The big rule is that we tend to be a happy home for kids who come and participate frequently. There is often a great deal of synergy between Troop 8 and school, sports, science projects, college essays, and the like, where the troop introduces boys to a subject they persue in other venues, or we give them a practical outlet for the skills the've developed in a more abstract classroom. For us, climbing systems are an application of trigonometry and vector forces, and it's not unusual for troop scouts to give public comment at council meetings or write op-eds for the paper about things like mountain bike access to parks! Our adult and youth leaders are medically savvy, and are good at helping boys and families work with medical conditions like allergies or chronic conditions.
Our adult leaders are happy to discuss your son's interest, and to work with you on helping him find a happy scouting home, either with Troop 8 or with one of our many brother troops in the area.
Boy Scouting will be a new adventure for your son, with a greater degree of independence and self-reliance. As a parent, your role will shift from helping him do things to helping him prepare for things, and from coaching to encouraging and cheering!
Lots of parents ask us what they can do while their boys are in webelos to prepare them for the transition to Boy Scouting. We find that some things boys experience for the first time in Scouting, as they develop a bit more independence and self-reliance. While that can be a good thing, you can ease the transition for your son by giving him his first experiences before he joins. Plus, you can do it while having some family fun and good "teaching moments." Here are some things to try that have been suggested by boys and parents over the years:
• One of the biggest transitions in scouting is boys developing independence from their family. To avoid issues of homesickness, we really encourage families to find some ways to provide "parent free" activities and overnights for their son during 5th grade. Overnights at friends' houses, a webelos overnight without mom or dad, going skiing with a buddy's family up north for the weekend are all good options. Helping your son develop his own personal activities that other family members don't participate in can also be helpful.
• Having a basic level of fitness will really help your son enjoy his first year in boy scouting. Try some strenuous family hikes or bike trips on a regular schedule, or any other activity that will develop some aerobic capacity and a degree of physical strength and confidence.
• The troop does a lot of water activities, which require some swimming ability and comfort in water. If your son is not a strong swimmer, get him into some swimming instruction now, when he's young and before he's "embarrassed" and tries to avoid water activities. This might take some real encouragement and "push" from you, but it will be well worth it. The BSA basic swim check is to swim (100 yards): 3 lengths of a regular pool in good form (crawl and/or breast stroke), then swim one length as a “rest stroke” (sidestroke or elementary backstroke), then float on your back for a minute...all without stopping or getting too tired. After your son can do at least that, engage him in every manner of water fight and dunking wars at his level of comfort.
• Service is an important part of scouting. It's important for guys to learn to do hard work and see it through to completion even when they're not "geting something out of it." Consider doing some service as a family... helping with a soup kitchen meal, working on something for your church, etc. Something that your son can really contribute to and be recognized for, which is "work" but not a "chore."
Often scouting will be a boy's first experience with cooking a meal and/or cleaning up after one. Try these simple fun things to prepare your son:
• Have him do some simple meals for the family at home. Good ideas are to learn how to cook a good pancake and make basic spaghetti or macaroni & cheese (just on the stove at home, as practice for campouts). All by himself, start-to-finish, including doing the pancake mix by adding water until it “looks right” rather than measuring. It'll be messy, but keep it fun!
• Get him in the habit of cleaning up his dishes and cooking pots right after a meal himself. We're always amazed at how many young lads have never picked up a sponge to scrub a pot, and that can be embarrassing among peers. Once that's a habit, make a game of learning how to clean up after #1, using as little soap as possible, and making believe the kitchen sink is a hand-pump that you can’t rinse your dishes in (i.e. clean up using a pot of hot water).
Scout troops are pretty strict about gear in terms of fit, quality, and age-appropriateness. As you continue to express interest in our program, we'll send you a gear guide and other tips. Please check with us before any major purchases. In the mean time, though, you can begin to develop some good habits:
• Practice packing gear in a small duffle bag for an overnight trip, like to a friends house. Pack it tight so that nothing is tied-on or dangling on the outside. Show him how, but make sure he does the packing himself.
• Pretend that he’s camping one weekend indoors... leave a bedroom window open, have him sleep in a sleeping bag on his bed, make him get changed while lying down in his bed or in his sleeping bag (like he’s inside a tent that’s too small to stand up in), make him use his flashlight when he goes to bed (no lights!), and keep track of all his stuff without a “gear explosion” around the room (everything’s got to be in his duffle, at least somewhat orderly... like “used” clothes separated from “good” clothes). If he’s really adventurous and you’ve got a good ground-pad for insulation from the ground, let him try it outside in the back yard on a cold but weather-free night.
• If you’ve got a small tent he can practice setting up in the basement, go for it! Then make him take it down and pack it up right. If he’s good at that, do it in the dark with only a flashlight!
• Some boys get weirded out by their first experience with a pit-toilet latrine, or with "taking a dump in the woods." Some even try to "hold it" for the weekend - Ugh! Help prepare your son by pretending that the bathroom is a really stinky latrine. Spray something smelly like perfume around in it. Have him go to the bathroom while holding his nose and "squatting" over the toilet rather than using the seat. Take him camping to a site that only has pit toilets and show him how you do it.
• Camping trips come in all kinds of weather. A few times on "bad weather" days, dress in non-cotton clothes and rain gear, good boots or tennies with warm socks. Pack up a bookbag backpack with a thermos of hot soup and a water bottle and some munchies, and go for a 2-3 hour hike somewhere fun.... a local park perhaps, or just exploring all the secret paths around your neighborhood. Have lunch/soup while standing out in the rain, or maybe under a park shelter. Tromp through any mud you can find on the way home. Stay cheerful, treating adversity and challenge as adventure!