And the merit badge programs in each camp is/are also pretty much the same. Admittedly, the merit badge program has varied. Some camps had merit badges as their whole focus. Many have had a mix of scheduled merit badge “classes” (though that is not the best term) and free time. The schedules have varied but they have been mostly alike.
I have learned that this year is different, however! Camp Thunder Ridge does not have the traditional weekly schedule with the mix of classes and free time. Our camp director is Nick Hutchinson. He has been a camp director for a few years. And somewhere in that experience, he came up with what he calls a “Track Program”. At first it was very confusing to me but the more that I have learned about it, the more I like it. I decided to interview Nick about his unique plan.
Kevin: … talking to Nick. Nick, I understand that you created a camp program unique and different from the usual merit badge programs offered in most camps. So, what is this program of yours?
“We call it the adventure track program. The idea is that we group merit badges together in themes or in similar requirements and the boys work on those two, three, or four merit badges all at once. We don’t ever sit down and have a “merit badge class”. These kids have been in school all year and don’t want to be back in school again. They just lose interest.”
So, Nick, what is your track program and how does it work?
Tracks are two-day adventures. The boys go out with staffers. They go on hikes. They play games. They have different experiences and in the process they are passing off requirements for the badges … I have often told my staff: “ I don’t ever want you to say, ‘Okay, let’s work on requirement #7’.”
Do the Scouts still work on merit badges?
“Yes, they do. They just may not know that they are doing requirements in the adventure. We want the advancement to be a by-product of the adventure. Baden Powell said that “Scout leaders should be requirement hunters rather than badge seekers”. It means that we send the boys out to do an activity and while they are playing, the staff leader or Scout troop leaders can mark off requirements that they have learned … And at the end of the adventure, staff or leaders can say, “By the way, you just did …”
Nick then talked of three focus areas of the current General Young Men President: “They ask three things: 1: Be with them – be another positive role model besides mom or dad, 2: Let them lead! Let the boys lead their patrols and troops – to step up to be leaders and not have the leaders doing everything for the boys Again quoting Baden Powell: “Never do for a boy what a boy can do for himself”, and 3: Connect them to heaven. Let them experience hard things – to stretch. Allow them to try and sometimes fail. And combine this with an opportunity to connect the challenge to a testimony building experience.” That fits with our philosophy of the track system”.
So, now, instead of merit badge classes – full of lecturing, you have a different philosophy – that of having Scouts out doing and experiencing. How is that going?
“I think that it is going really well. The boys seem to like this … they are more engaged and are doing things … we have less discipline problems. And once the adults understand what is going on, they like the program track.”
Okay, so what are your program tracks at Thunder Ridge? Tell me the name of each track and some of the exciting adventures that they do within the track.
Anasazi – This the handicraft and archery track. So, they choose two of the standard handicraft badges and then archery – including the aerial archery program where they shoot foam disks out of the air with special archery arrow.
Earth, Wind and Fire – Geology, Soil & Water Conservation and Nature. Participants hike physical features of camp as they explore all areas of camp. Environmental Science … we try to swap this out to try to provide variety so troops want to return multiple years.
Mission Possible – Is First Aid, Emergency Preparedness and Astronomy.
Scouting Basics – In this track, Scouts work on requirements on the Trail to First Class. Here Scouts can earn many of their requirements needed for their next rank.
Survivor – Participants will create a literal “Ewok Village” in the trees to practice their pioneering skills and to test their creativity for Wilderness Survival. They also form teams and learn the ins and outs of Search and Rescue on this outpost.
ACE – This stands for Advanced Camper Experience. This is a full week of challenging activities for campers who are not pursuing merit badges. Activities include high and low COPE, mountain biking, and black powder rifle shooting.
Sharp Shooter – In this track, Scouts can do the rifle shooting merit badge – combined with Mammal Study and Orienteering. We didn’t plan this, but with the Brian Head fire this summer, we inserted Chess and Game Design for Orienteering. These have been well-received by Scouts and leaders as they have had a grand time playing the games.
Those sound like rather exciting tracks (or program options) for Scouts. How many tracks can each Scout participate in while at Thunder Ridge?
“Each Scout can take two different tracks. One is held on Monday afternoon and then all day Tuesday. Then they have free time on Wednesday mornings to go back to get additional help as needed. Then the second track starts Wednesday and repeats on Thursday – with free time again on Friday mornings.”
Do you have tracks for younger Scouts as well as older Scouts?
The younger staff can participate in the Scouting Basics track – and can choose one other track. And the ACE program is designed for the older more experienced Scouts.
How has your program been received by Scouts and leaders?
“Sometimes it is hard to retrain the leaders. But, when the leaders see that the boys are engaged and busy, they are happy. The leaders say, “This is great … I can actually sit by my campfire … take a nap … or talk to other leaders”.
And I understand that your track program is now used by other camps within your council. Is this true? So, how did you sell your program to the Utah National Parks Council – and how did you get the other camp directors hooked on the program?
“Yes, that is true. The track program system is now used in all Utah National Parks Council camps except for Maple Dell and the high adventure bases. Council leaders evaluated the track system and soon supported it wholeheartedly and implemented it in the other council camps. Each of the camps tailor their tracks to the features and resources that they have in their camps.”
Are there any problems or issues that have been a challenge to deal with?
“It’s a training thing with leaders and staff. But, once they are informed and see how the programs work, they become believers.”
Would you ever want to return to the traditional Scout camp programming?
“No, never! The track system has worked very well and I have been pleased with the results!”
Any recommendations for other camps who might want to try your “track” system?
“Just dive in and do it. Don’t talk about it too much. Select two or three merit badges that might go well together and then base activities around the requirements in the badges. Don’t ever sit and lecture.”
So, we are now well into the summer at the Thunder Ridge Scout Camp. We trained staff during our staff preparation week. And now we have been doing it for a few weeks. With practice and reminders, the staff has done well at implementing the tracks. And as the track “Gnubie”, I have been pleased to see how it all works. It has become a pretty fun and exciting program and way to conduct Scout camp! And who knows … this might just be the Scout camp wave of the future! Let’s all get on Track!
Best wishes along your Scouting Trails … Kevinthescoutblogger
See this link for an introduction to Kevin the Scouting Trails Blogger. Blogging articles have excerpts taken from Kevin’s many personal journals and Scouting Trails books including “MR. Scoutmaster!”, “Keys to Scouting Leadership,” “Gnubie to Eagle Scout”, and others at his Scoutingtrails website. Connect with Kevin and read his articles on Scouting blogsites such as The Boy Scout, The Scouting Trail and the Voice of Scouting. Feel free to comment on anything you read! Find Kevin on Facebook at: Scouting Trails Books and Blogs.
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