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Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Time Event
4:57a
My $0.02 on Venturing Advancement
So, BSA is planning on revamping the entire Venturing advancement system. They are disappointed that so few of these awards have been earned. I wonder if they asked anybody why that would be so. Particularly, I wonder if they asked anybody who had any experience at cranking out these awards. BSA has a bad habit of trying stuff in the hopes that it'll work, sort of like throwing a plate of spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. The Venturing advancement program shows the uneven effects of the competing visions out of which it was thrown together after the launch of Venturing in 1998.

Well, I've been the Advisor for two highly successful Venturing Crews: Crew 699 at Tanner Valley UMC (1999-2006); Crew 119 at EFUMC (2009-present). Crew 699 accounted for almost all the Venturing advancement of our Council during its life; indeed, it out-performed the entire Dan Beard Council next door to us as well. Venturing advancement has picked up in the Councils around us since then, but Crew 119 is still probably one of the workhorses of advancement in Hoosier Trails Council. We know what works.

Over the seven years of its existence, Crew 699 cranked out (if memory serves) 10 Bronze awards, 6 Gold awards, 4 Silver awards, and 2 Ranger awards. Crew 119 in 3 1/2 years has awarded four Bronzes and one stray Eagle; we should have our first Gold award this summer. Looking at this output, what is immediately apparent is that the proportion of Silvers and Golds to Bronzes is quite good. Once you manage to get a Bronze award, a large number will go on to achieve Gold and a quite respectable number, Silver. That part of the system isn't broken. But when you look at the distribution of Bronze awards, you find something interesting.

There are five Bronze awards, one for each of the program emphases of Venturing; however, the Sea Scouting Bronze is only earnable by Sea Scouts, so there are really only four Bronze awards available to the typical Venturer. Of the 10 Bronzes earned by Crew 699, I think 6 (5?) were for Religious Life, 3 (4?) were Outdoor, and 1 was either Sports or Arts & Hobbies. At least three Venturers earned more than one Bronze, I think. Crew 119 has earned 3 Religious Life and 1 Outdoor, all by different Venturers.

What is immediately apparent is that Sports and Arts & Hobbies are largely ignored. Not because our Venturers don't do those things, but they don't form a significant part of our program as a Crew. The youth would have to prod me on what they're doing at school and home for me to push them to complete the requirements that we would have to do together. Religious Life and Outdoor are the bread and butter of our Venturing advancement, but then both our Crews have been thoroughly integrated parts of the church's Scouting ministry and both have been High Adventure in orientation.

So, why so many Religious Life Bronzes? Well, I'm a pastor, and my congregations have intentionally done Scouting as ministry. Probably half my Venturers have been connected with the chartering church in some way, which means a lot of them have done their religious emblem awards as part of our church's Christian education program. In addition, I find it easy to track their participation in the church for the other RL requirements. So, if you are active in your church, and your church really cranks out religious emblems, and the Crew is highly connected to the chartering church -- three conditions not necessarily typical of even church-based Crews -- then cranking out RL Bronzes is easy, and the Gold and Silver awards naturally follow.

That leaves the Outdoor Bronze, which forms a significant minority of the Bronzes my Crews have earned. Odd that, given that we are a High Adventure-based program (emphasis on backpacking). Why so few Outdoor Bronzes, given that we do so much traditional Scouting stuff? The answer is that the Outdoor Bronze and Ranger awards are insanely difficult to complete. My Venturers who have earned the Outdoor Bronze can easily take up to three years to achieve the Bronze. And here, the problem isn't in completing four of the eight Core requirements, but in completing two of the many attractive Elective requirements, especially Backpacking. We are, at heart, a backpacking Crew, but to complete this requires no less than three treks. How many treks can you do in a year?

What is plain to me is that most Crews I know of are trying to do the Outdoor program, and they find it difficult to get to the Bronze level in a reasonable amount of time. So both youth and adults get discouraged or lose focus. If it were up to me (and God knows, nobody down in Irving is asking), I'd make the Outdoor Bronze easier to earn. Keep the Ranger as tough as it is, if you want; just don't discourage the youth by making what is probably most attractive to them so hard to achieve. You might also make the Arts & Hobbies Bronze a little more coherent, so that it becomes an attractive option.

Other than that, I really don't see the need for a drastic overhaul. Of course, BSA is in a fervor of change these days, and they're going to overhaul everything, whether it needs it or not. The result is that many a baby is in danger of being thrown out with the bath water. But, hey, a Scout is clean, you know?

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