“Be prepared.” Is there a better motto to face a worldwide health crisis?
To help keep their young scouts active and on track with learning and earning merit badges, local and regional leaders with Boy Scouts of America have moved lessons, meetings and even their campfire gatherings online.
While there are some activities that can’t be replicated entirely through the internet, BSA leaders say the scouts are fairly well-prepared to deal with novel coronavirus-influenced restrictions now and in the future.
Shana Scott, district executive for the Mt. Olympus District, said scouting hasn’t stopped by any stretch of the imagination.
“We’re still open for new members, anyone who feels like they would like to join in the new adventure,” she said last week.
“Right now, there’s no soccer, gymnastics … we’re one of the very few kid organizations outside of schools that are going forward and working on a plan.”
Those plans, Scott said, started well before Gov. Jay Inslee’s executive orders in mid-March and early April.
“On the peninsula, we were hearing and seeing a lot of things … (and) we decided to start moving stuff online that second week (or March),” Scott said.
“I think we were a little ahead of the curve.
“Much like the schools, we were thinking, ‘What can we do to maintain normalcy for our youth and not stop their growth?’ Working around parent’s schedules is probably our greatest challenge.”
Scott contacted regional leaders such as Sequim’s Anne Kanters, a longtime Scouter who now serves as a crew adviser, training chair and chapter adviser to the Order of the Arrow lodge, for ideas about how to continue scouting activities without in-person meetings and gatherings.
“We have a great volunteer system in Mt. Olympus, both with the virtual and face-to-face merit badges,” Kanters said.
Early on she helped coordinate six merit badge counselors who each agreed to host classes via Zoom. The pilot class went well and by mid-May the district was hosting its second round of merit badge classes.
Many of the BSA merit badge requirements needed only a simple adjustment or two when moving online, Kanters said; for example, an activity that would normally require a scout cook a trail meal for their fellow scouts could be adjusted to cooking for their families, or setting up camp on a scout outing could be done in one’s backyard.
Other than swimming or boating, almost all merit badge activities could be moved online, she said.
Other amendments allow for parents to authorize when their scouts have completed activities for badges, Scott said.
Anne’s son Davis Kanters, who is working on his Citizenship in the Community merit badge, has been a part of scouts since he was in first grade.
“(Scouting has) taught me a lot of things, sometimes outdoor skills, people skills,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of people (who) couldn’t have been replaced; that means a lot to me.”
He said the move to predominately online scouting services is a proverbial mixed bag.
“You really can’t replicate going outside with your friends and having a good time; that’s something that’s unique to scouting,” Davis said. “I think something we can do online is we can plan a lot for future things. (And we) can still play online games.”
There are certain age restrictions for those looking to achieve the BSA’s top rank of Eagle, Scott said, which spurred scout leaders to make sure those scouts have every opportunity to work toward that goal.
Now that they’ve been forced to go online for many of their resources, many scouts are finding out how vast an organization BSA is, Scott said.
“Kids (are) able to go from council to council for resources; that’s really served us well,” she said.
That virtual activity comes with strict policies for how youths act online through Cyber Chip — a BSA award educating youth about how to stay safe in with technology — along with two-deep leadership that sees two registered adults involved in all scout activities. Scott said that includes keeping scout meetings private and not posting to social media pages.
Davis and several other scouts in the Mt. Olympic District were expecting to expand their world view this summer with a biking trek to Switzerland. With some travel restrictions-influenced options off the table, including a cross-state trip, scouts decided to defer their international trip to 2021, Davis said.
And while some large activities are getting postponed or amended, Scott said scouts are looking to maintain the core of what BSA is about. That even includes scouts gathering around a virtual campfire to sing camp songs.
“Scouting has always been about family time; other people are finding that out,” she said.
The Mt. Olympus District serves youths in Clallam County and east Jefferson County, with about 150 families currently participating on a regular basis, Scott said.
Summer time is usually a very busy time for BSA, so scout leaders are trying to prepare for the possibility they’ll be unable to meet in large groups with items such as a kind of “day camp in a box,” Scott said.
“We need to be prepared to where this journey goes,” she said.
“Camp is obviously going to look very different this summer,” Scott said. (But) we’re prepared. We’re resourceful.We like challenges. We like work-arounds.”
For more about the Mt. Olympus District of BSA, see www.seattlebsa.org/mt-olympus.