For the sustainability of the Mount Baker Council and the youth we serve, the Mount Baker Council Volunteer Executive Board has approved a reduced spending budget for the 2020 calendar year based on the serious impact of COVID-19 on our current and projected income projections. As many of you have had to make much needed but uncomfortable decisions regarding your own personal budgets during the pandemic, the Mount Baker Council has had to make similar decisions regarding our 2020 budget so we can live within our means.
One of the decisions is changing the operations and hours of our Service Center’s Trading Post. Below are the key changes and the new service hours for the Trading Post.
- There will be no Saturday Trading Post hours at the Everett Service Center until the Everett community achieves Phase 4.
- The Everett Trading Post will be closed during 11:30 am to 12:30 pm due to the reduced staffing.
- To better coordinate services and sales, the Bellingham Service Center and Trading Post is closed until further notice.
- For those volunteers who need advancement awards, books, uniforms and other Scouting items, all Trading Post operations will be handled through the Everett Service Center. Units and individuals will be able to place orders through the Everett Trading Post via phone (425.338.0380) or email (email@example.com). Orders received by 4 p.m. will be shipped by the next day (shipping and handling fees will be added to order total), dependent on the inventory.
Everett Service Center Trading Post Key Information:
- Phone: 425.338.0380
- Email (for orders): firstname.lastname@example.org
- Open Store Hours: M-F 9 am to 11:30 am and 12:30 pm to 5:30 pm
- Closed Store Hours: M-F 11:30 am – 12:30 pm as well as Saturdays.
- Note: Due to budget adjustments based on COVID-19 challenges, the Everett Service Center and Trading Post will be closed twice a month on Fridays. See the Council Calendar on www.mountbakerbsa.org for the dates.
- Special Note: The Bellingham Service Center and Trading Post is closed until further notice.
We appreciate your support and understanding as we all work to ensure our organization can continue to fulfill our mission of delivering Scouting’s values to our young people. We know that with the support of our volunteers and our community the Mount Baker Council can come out of this experience stronger.
Understanding the national BSA ads and how you can share the Youth Protection message.
It is important to emphasize that the safety of children in our programs is our absolute top priority. That’s precisely why, over many decades the BSA has developed some of the strongest expert-informed youth protection policies found in any youth-serving organization.
Conversations about safety will be especially relevant over the next several weeks when those in Scouting and other members of the public will likely see and hear print, TV, social media, digital and radio advertising from national BSA’s Chapter 11 noticing campaign. Although only the national organization has filed for Chapter 11, you will likely come across these ads in the coming weeks and may receive questions from friends and family, so we wanted to make sure you knew their purpose and had the necessary information to address questions or concerns they may raise for you or others.
The BSA’s ads are designed and sponsored by national BSA to ensure that victims have the opportunity to come forward and apply for compensation from a proposed Trust by filing a claim by the November 16, 2020 deadline set by the court. This advertising effort underscores the BSA’s commitment to the dual objectives of its bankruptcy proceeding: equitably compensate victims of past abuse and continue the mission of Scouting.
You can learn more about Scouting’s Youth Protection policies and practices, as well as more information on the national BSA “Noticing Campaign” by following links to these national BSA resources:
Even as summer comes to an end, we know that camping season is continuing strong!
While we were unable to operate our traditional resident camp, we can still welcome limited camping at Fire Mountain under state and county guidelines.
With Skagit County currently in Phase 2 of the Safe Start plan, Fire Mountain can offer campsite rentals to household groups OR groups of up to 5 individuals. While sites vary, the average cost of a weekend at camp is only $65. This fee includes access to bathrooms and showers, firewood, and one of the premier Scout camping facilities in the country.
To make a reservation at camp, visit: https://www.mountbakerbsa.org/camping/fire-mountain-scout-camp/
When visiting this summer, please remember:
- Your household/group at camp is your cohort during your visit. When exploring camp, you should always travel and play within your cohort.
- Please respect other guests by always maintaining a physical distance of at least 6 feet.
- In accordance with the Governor’s order, please wear a mask or face covering at all times.
- Make use of our many facilities to frequently wash your hands during your stay.
There have been several work projects completed at camp over the past year, and also one or two that has been stalled by restrictions during the pandemic. When visiting camp, you can expect:
- The new Ranger Shop/Storage building in the parking lot is completed. Take a moment to admire it when you arrive! This is also where you can pick up a ROLLING CART to carry gear into your campsite. Please plan for your vehicle to remain in the parking lot, and to hike in with your camping gear. If you have extraordinary circumstances that may require you to drive into camp, contact the Scout office to work out details of your visit.
- The water system at camp has been completely re-built. While its mostly underground, the water you’ll enjoy during your stay is now a lot easier for us to manage. You may notice that some of our roads are still recovering from this work – please travel around camp with care!
- A major project in the center of camp involved lowering and grading the main parade field and the construction of the new Turner Family General Store and Janicki Shelter. These projects have been slowed/stalled and are remain active work sites. Feel free to take a look at what’s been going on, but please avoid directly entering the site or buildings.
We have been working closely with the Skagit County Public Health Department to understand what the timeline may be to allow larger groups to use facilities at Fire Mountain. Unfortunately, until the County reaches Phase 3, we will continue to operate under these restrictions.
For more information, or to make a reservation, visit: https://www.mountbakerbsa.org/camping/fire-mountain-scout-camp/ or email us directly at email@example.com.
Continue to stay safe and healthy this summer, and we hope to see you at camp. Scout On!
August 31, 2020
Mount Baker Council’s Adult Volunteers and Supporters,
For the sustainability of the Mount Baker Council and the youth we serve, the Mount Baker Council Volunteer Executive Board has approved a reduced spending budget for the remainder of the 2020 calendar year based on the serious impact of COVID-19 on our current and projected income projections. The Mount Baker Council has a strong fiscal stewardship tradition, strengthened significantly in the past decade through the volunteers of the Executive Board and guidance from the Council Finance Committee as well as our Council staff. It has always been our goal to deliver a balanced budget by year-end. As many of you have had to make much needed but uncomfortable decisions regarding your own personal budgets during the pandemic, the Mount Baker Council has had to make similar decisions regarding our 2020 budget so we can live within our means.
We’re thankful to our Scouting from Home, Safe Start to Summer Camp committees and our Scouting units that have been working to find creative ways to keep Scouting programs available for our youth during this pandemic and financial crisis. As we head into the fall, it is imperative that we continue this work and more, so that we may continue keeping our youth engaged and involved. The Scouting program is too important to put on pause.
Our Council’s income from support through Friends of Scouting, Special Fundraising Events donations and revenue from Trading Post sales, Camp Card Sales, and Camping/Activity programs (including Fire Mountain Scout Camp) is dramatically down by $700,000 at the end of July 2020 when compared to July 2019. While we are trying to be optimistic during this pandemic that our donors and supporters will continue to support our youth programs at past levels, nearly every key fundraising and revenue-generating event has been canceled or postponed since March 2020 and revenue from fundraisers and events such as the fall unit popcorn sales are projected to be half of original budget expectations.
The Council Board and leadership team have taken many pro-active steps during this time to address the expected revenue shortfall. We applied for and received a PPP (Payroll Protection Program) forgivable loan. We are increasing our draw on the endowment, and plan to capture all the money in our “rainy day fund.” Furthermore, we received a major gift from Janicki industries, a capstone gift to support the Strictly Business Patch Campaign from the Nysether Foundation, and additional major gifts from a few private individuals. We are thankful for the support of these terrific donors and the forethought of our previous leadership to build “rainy day” funds. While these actions have been extremely helpful, our Council income is still projected to fall short of fully funding our program needs.
We have been able to reduce Council expenses through cost-cutting measures by an additional $250,000 through this same period (Jan-July) and are planning additional cuts in expenses through the end of our budget year, but we must have further resources to continue our quality operations on a daily basis. It is a financial tenant of our organization to deliver a balanced budget that meets our program needs. Furthermore, we are committed to maintaining this core principal during the pandemic. As a result, and for the sustainability of the Mount Baker Council and the youth we serve, there are several adjustments we are implementing to ensure our budget continues to drive the much-needed program for our youth.
Based on the income projections and the additional reductions in spending, effective immediately (September 1st), the Council will be embarking on a new pathway to balance our operating budget by year-end. These decisions are not easy, but critically necessary to pursue a balanced budget. Some of the cost savings will be accomplished through the following actions:
- Reducing our employee compensation and benefits budget through staff restructuring and furlough days. Through restructuring of our full-time and part-time staff, the Council Staff will be reduced to 61% of the staff count on January 1st. Actions to be implemented:
- As of September 1st, three full-time staff roles that are currently vacant (Pilchuck DE, North Cascades DE and Fundraising Administrative Assistant) will be eliminated from the staff structure.
- As of September 1st, the following staff members will be laid off immediately and the responsibilities of those positions will be merged in the new staff structure.
- Jose Rodriguez, Salish Sea District Executive (full-time)
- Carol Stobbe, Everett Service Center Trading Post Manager (full-time)
- Vangie Visocky, Everett Service Center Trading Post Salesclerk (part-time)
- Jeanette Clark, Bellingham Service Center Trading Post Salesclerk (part-time)
- The remaining full-time staff will be required to take ten unpaid (temporary furloughs) days off before the end of the year. To accomplish this cost savings, the Everett Service Center will be closed, and our Council Staff will have one-day furloughs for a total of ten days (normally every other Friday) until year-end. Calendar of closures will be on our website.
- Reducing fixed and variable expenses by taking the following actions:
- With the closure of ten days for the furloughs through year-end, we will be saving costs in utilities at the Everett Service Center.
- There will be no Saturday Trading Post hours at the Everett Service Center until the Everett community achieves Phase 4.
- Starting September 1st, the Everett Trading Post will be closed during 11:30 am to 12:30 pm due to the reduced staffing.
- To better coordinate services and sales, the Bellingham Service Center and Trading Post will be closed as of September 1st until further notice.
- With the elimination of the Trading Post Salesclerk service position in Bellingham, the Trading Post operations will be handled through the Everett Service Center. Units that have normally utilized the Bellingham Service Center will be able to place orders through the Everett Trading Post via phone or email (MBCtradingpost@scouting.org). Orders received by 4 p.m. will be shipped by the next day (shipping and handling fees will be added to order total), dependent on the inventory.
- The phone services at the Bellingham Service Center will be shutdown. All units and volunteers should call the Everett Service Center at 425.338.0380 for support or their local District Director.
- There will be cost savings from reduced utilities usage, elimination of phone and copier contracts as well as other reduced expenses associated with the facility closure.
The past five months have been extremely difficult on all of us, including your Council staff. This pandemic and the restrictions imposed on our communities have forced all of us to operate on new terms. The restructuring of our staff and the closure of a facility are steps that our Council did not want to implement, but crucial to being good financial stewards. Each of the staff members released from our team have been working hard on your behalf during these unprecedented times. We wish them well.
How can you help us deliver the mission of Scouting and ensure a fiscally strong and independent Council in 2020 and beyond?
- Ensure that your units and Scouts are participating in weekly Scouting meetings or activities, even if it is virtual.
- Ask your Scouts to invite a friend to join Scouting this Fall.
- Have your Scouts earn great prizes and unit program funds by selling Popcorn online.
- Attend and buy items at the virtual auction on Saturday, October 3. Invite friends and family to join you online. Donate, or solicit donations, of items for the auction.
- Attend and donate at a virtual community Good Scout Breakfast or Luncheon. There are many planned for the fall.
- Participate in the Pull for Scouting Clay shoot in November.
- Renew your past Friends of Scouting donation and sponsor a Scout or more ($205) if you are able.
This is a call to every adult volunteer to actively participate in ways to ensure the sustainability of our Council for the present and the future. We have an amazing opportunity to strengthen our organization during this crisis but cannot do so without your support. If you have the means, we need your increased financial support this year. If you have not already actively involved your friends and associates on behalf of Scouting, now is the time.
This letter is not intended to diminish the hardships we have all faced; between COVID-19 and health related concerns, job loss, civil unrest, and political turmoil, our hearts cry out for healing. However, we need to underscore the challenges facing Mount Baker Council and its ability to create life-changing experiences for our youth and families.
We plead for your help and leadership to ensure our organization can continue to fulfill our mission of delivering Scouting’s values to our young people. We know that with the support of our Board, our unit leaders, and our community the Mount Baker Council can come out of this experience stronger and continue to provide the programs and services for the Scouts in our community.
Denise Lesniak SR VP Membership
It’s Summer Time! You might not realize it; but this is the perfect time to start recruiting new scouts. There are so many kids and teens looking for things to do this summer and Scouting is the answer. Get them involved with your unit.
Start by making sure your Unit Pin on BeAScout.org is updated with current contact information. We want to make sure families are able to find you. Reply to all inquiries and invite potential scouts to your next virtual meeting. Have one of your experienced scouts call a new scout (with two-deep leadership) to introduce themselves and talk about what your unit has planned in the future. Answer any questions and make them
Have you asked your current scouts to invite a friend to you next virtual meeting, event or awards ceremony? Remember….More Scouts = More Fun!
Cub Scout Programs:
How is the planning coming along for your Join Night? Have you come up with a secondary plan on hosting a virtual version? It is suggested to host an event in August and then again in September. Let your District Membership Chair and District Executive know your dates. Mount Baker Council’s Membership Committee is providing free Cub Scout handbooks to new registered scouts from August 15-October 15 and you do not
want to miss out. Units need to have a New Member Coordinator registered and trained, a scheduled Join Night (or two) and have viewed the fall recruiting webinar, available on the MBC website.
Are you looking for ideas and resources for recruiting new scouts? Check out the S’MORES Membership Club (Summer Membership Organization of Resources and Education for Scouters). These are a series of mini webinars covering everything you need to know for successful recruiting.
The sessions are held every other Tuesday at 7:15pm and past sessions are available to review on the Membership tab of Mount Baker Council’s website. There is time for questions and answers after each session.
Coming up we have:
- Tips for hosting a virtual join night and Be A Scout Day – August 4
- How to virtually promote your unit – August 18
- Tips for presenting a virtual parent orientation – September 1
Boy Scouts of America is also running a series of National Recruiting Webinars. Topics cover everything from using Scoutbook, to Den Leader Experiences to Geofencing and Fall Recruiting. You will find the current schedule (and the ability to view past webinars) at https://scoutingwire.org/marketing-and-membership-hub/.
Upcoming sessions include:
- Local PR How-to’s Print, Digital, Video – August 6
- It’s Not Too Late: Five Things You Should be Doing Now – August 20
You will also have access to “Scout Talk” videos, promo videos, flyer templates and find out how to get Boys’ Life mini-mags online.
There is more!!!
Have you seen the ads yet for Boy Scouts of Americas’ Family Fun Fest? You can build your adventure on August 8 and September 12 on Facebook Live.
Make sure all of your scout families know about the event and start sharing it through your digital media outlets. It will be similar to their National Camp-In and that was tons of fun. Mount Baker Council’s Membership Committee with be setting up “Be A Scout Day” on September 12 in conjunction with the Family Fun Fest. We would like to have all of our units prepare a short video (3-5 minutes) or set up a virtual open house event
to tie in to the festivities. This is a great way to promote your unit and a great way to engage your scouts now in making a video or live presentation. Watch for more details coming.
See, summer time is the perfect time to start recruiting! Get that excitement going and let us share this amazing program with as many youth as we can.
One last note: coming this fall to Fire Mountain Scout Camp is our Cub Scout Adventure Day! Formerly Stampede. This is a huge open house at camp on October 17 for all of our Cub Scout aged youth to experience the adventures of Scouting. There will be opportunities for fishing, hiking, BB guns, archery, crafts and more! Put it on your calendar now. For our Scouts BSA Troops-we need your help running stations. This event has so much energy behind it; we know you will want to be involved, too. Let your District Membership Chair know what type of activity you would like to host.
For more information, please contact your District Membership Chair or District Executives and the Membership tab of Mount Baker Council’s Website.
A whole new world of “Scouting at Home” has increased our access to what scouting has to offer. We can now connect with Councils from around the US to work on Advancements, learn new skills and just have fun.
To help our scouts and scouters find the resources they need, we have put together a Scouting at Home section on our Council’s Web Site. Here you will find information on:
- Virtual Camp Opportunities – Cub Scouts
- Virtual Camp Opportunities – Scouts BSA
- Virtual Meeting Fun
- Social Distancing Service Projects
- Cub Scout Activities
- Online Scout Rank Resources – Cub Scouts
- Online Scout Rank Resources – Scouts BSA
- Online Merit Badges
Whether you are at home on on the trail – Keep on Scouting!
Please NOTE that this page and future updates have been moved to our Advancement Section.
Merit badge counselors play a vital role in Scouting. You offer your time, knowledge, and other resources so that Scouts can explore over a hundred different topics of interest. That has always been a core part of Scouting and this hasn’t changed with social-distancing. If anything, your services are needed more than ever.
Social-distancing has challenged Scouting and made it difficult to conduct face-to-face merit badge classes. But Scouting had adapted and developed new ways of meeting online. Many were skeptical about online Scouting at first, but after several months of conducting meetings and classes online, it is clear that online meetings are a very acceptable method for meeting with and teaching Scouts. In fact, online meetings have a lot of unique benefits, such as allowing Scouts from across the US to connect with merit badge counselors with special skill sets, and allowing counselors to take groups on virtual visits to locations that would otherwise be inaccessible to Scouts.
If you are a merit badge counselor and are considering online teaching, you are not alone. There are many merit badge counselors in our council who have been running successful merit badge courses since the beginning of ‘social distancing’. We have experimented with several approaches and are happy to share what we have learned.
It is now clear that most merit badge courses can be taught, at least in part, online. And if you don’t feel that your subject can be delivered online, consider that courses such as Wilderness Survival, First Aid, and Hiking have been successfully completed online and courses such as Archery, Horseback Riding and Swimming have been completed as blended or partial courses.
Online courses are here to stay and anyone can deliver one.
Scouts still need your help. And we can help you … help them. The Mount Baker Council can handle registration and reach out to all the Scouts in our council and beyond. This makes that part of setting up a course painless and allows you to share your services with as many Scouts as you are comfortable teaching. We can also connect you with other counselors with a wealth of online experience.
Please considering sharing your expertise with our Scouts. Get in touch with us and we’ll connect you with the resources to help you succeed.
Online Merit Badge Formats
There is more than one way to deliver a merit badge course. Common online Merit Badge Formats include:
- Virtual Meeting Format
- Virtual Meeting Slideshow Presentations
- Live Demos and Virtual Visits
- Google Classroom
- Prerecorded Videos
Virtual Meeting Format (Zoom Meetings)
Most of our Scouts are familiar with virtual meeting platforms such as Zoom. This is a popular platform used by schools, for unit meetings and is by far the most popular platform used for online merit badges. If you are not familiar with Zoom, we can help connect you with someone who can assist you in setting up a meeting.
Zoom and similar platforms allow you to meet with small and large groups alike. Running a class and participating in discussions is easy. Hands-on tasks can be a little more challenging, but can be done with a little planning and creativity.
Virtual Meeting Slideshow Presentations
For those of you with PowerPoint skills, virtual meetings are a cinch. Programs such as Zoom are designed to work well with PowerPoint, PDFs and similar programs. Classes can be entirely set up in a slideshow format or blended with other formats such as discussions, breakout rooms, videos, etc.
Here are a few slideshows designed to work with virtual courses:
- First Aid Merit Badge
- Personal Management Merit Badge
- Personal Fitness Merit Badge
- Wilderness Survival Merit Badge
- Medicine Merit Badge
- Genealogy Merit Badge
Other slideshows are available online and the best ones are likely the ones you make on your own.
Live Demos and Virtual Visits
For classes that need live demos, counselors can run live demos from their cellphone or laptop. This allows you to tackle hands-on skills, such as fire starting or pioneering skills. This can be done on Zoom, YouTube, Facebook and other platforms.
If you have access to a medical office, library, power plant, farm, etc. you can easily bring 50 Scouts with you on a virtual tour. This is invaluable as you can share a live experience with Scouts that would otherwise not be able to attend.
Google Classroom allows you to set up and organize merit badge coursework online. Scouts can complete and turn in requirements at their own pace. This allows you to easily connect with Scouts without having to set up a virtual meeting, or can be done in conjunction with virtual classes. Many Scouts prefer this method of merit badge work.
For merit badge counselors, Google Classroom allows you to easily organize and keep track of coursework for any number of Scouts.
A few merit badge counselors have recorded videos of their classwork. Videos have been published on YouTube, Facebook and on Council websites.
These videos can be used in a number of ways to fulfill or guide completion of merit badge requirements.
- They can be posted on council websites to be used by scouts from around the US 24 hours a day.
- Videos can be played in online and face-to-face classes.
- Viewing of videos can be assigned as homework for merit badge coursework.
- Videos can be used by the creator of the video, or by hundreds merit badge counselors around the US.
The playback quality of recorded videos are generally far superior when downloaded or viewed on the web than the video feeds from platforms such as Zoom.
Are Scouts Interested in Online Merit Badges?
Scouts from all over the US have signed up for our courses. Some course have filled up by the first business day after posting.
It is clear that there is a great need for this service and it is wonderful way to connect willing Merit Badge Counselors with needy Scouts. With enough notification, we can generally fill up your class with as many Scouts as you are willing to teach.
Some Requirements Not Suitable for Online Completion?
Sure, there are a few requirements that can’t be reasonably completed on a virtual meeting platform, such as the requirements of swimming or shooting. That’s OK, because you can cover online suitable requirements for any given merit badge and assign the rest as homework or issue a partially completed Blue Card. For the most part, experienced Scouts are used to being assigned homework and will be grateful for what was covered by the counselor. After your course, Scouts are that many steps closer to completing their merit badge and potentially their next rank.
Some Merit Badges and Requirements ARE Better Suited for Online Teaching
Depending on what Merit Badge you are instructing, you may find that it is much easy to teach in an online format than a live-in-person format.
- Merit Badge Counselors can schedule a class when they want to schedule class. This by itself enables a great many Merit Badge Counselors to teach who otherwise would not be able offer their services.
- Some classes are just better delivered in a Multimedia Presentation format. Many troop meeting locations just aren’t set up for this, but your Zoom account is.
- You can reach many scouts across the US. This is important for Merit Badges that don’t have a lot of Counselor support, and of course for Scouts in remote locations.
- You can take Scouts to areas you have special access to but that are prohibited to in-person visitors.
- You have access to all your tools and resources from where you are at.
- Scouts have access to what they have at home (their project, their computer, pet, family, own cookware, etc.).
- You have internet where you are at, whereas the regular Scout meeting place may not. This allows you to access so many electronic resources.
- Some Merit Badge Counselors and even Scouts interact better online than in person.
- Some Merit Badge Counselors just aren’t able to travel for a number of reasons (work schedule, traffic, mobility concerns, location).
There are many Merit Badge Counselors who honestly prefer virtual meetings over in-person ones.
Secrets for Running a Great Online Merit Badge Course
We have learned a lot of tricks to make our courses better. Some of it was learned through trial and error while others were learned from other Scouters. We’re happy to share what we have learned.
What to Cover and what Not to Cover
That’s entirely up to you. You don’t need to cover every requirement for a given merit badge to provide a valuable service to Scouts. Look through the requirements and determine what you are willing or able to cover given your resources and time restrictions. If you would like to cover more, but aren’t sure how to, reach out to other counselors. We have shared ideas and come up with so pretty good solutions in the past.
If you can’t cover some material, just let the Scouts know this. Most are used to having to do “homework” and complete requirements that weren’t covered in class. You can also issues partially completed Blue Cards so that Scouts can complete remaining requirements at a later date with a different counselor.
Should I run a single class or break it up?
This depends on what merit badge you wish to deliver, the amount of content you want to cover and your own schedule. There are several popular scheduling formats used by counselors across the US, so you have options.
Single Session Format. If you have a merit badge with simple requirements, you may be able to fit it into a single class up to 2-hours long. A 2-hour format is used by the Alamo Area Council and works reasonable well. Many courses will fit into this time span and you can always end class early. It is important to know that the attention span of Scouts diminishes after about 45 minutes, so it is important that you watch your time and give your Scouts a break. It is possible to run a longer class, but this is not recommended.
Course with Multiple Classes Format. Some Merit Badges have a LOT of requirements or have requirements that require a lot of time to cover. We have seen courses broken down into 2-6 classes. You will need to determine the right balance for you and your Scouts.
- 1-hour classes are great if your main goal is to have an optimally engaged audience. Running shorter classes has its drawbacks. Shorter likely means you will need more classes. If you have too many classes, you may find that your Scouts, adult help and/or you will more likely have a scheduling conflict.
- 1.5-hour classes allows you to run two 45-minute sessions with a break in the middle. This is a reasonable compromise for larger courses that require multiple session.
- 2-hour classes are used by some councils. This format works and you can fit a lot of material into 2 hours. That said, 2-hours is a long time for most Scouts. If you are not sure how long it will take to cover you material, you can schedule 2-hour sessions and you can always end your class early. Ending early is usually a considered a positive event while running over isn’t.
- Longer than 2-hours? Some councils run multiple sessions back-to-back spanning several hours. It is possible to do this but is not generally recommended. To make something like this work, consider adding a little variety in your lesions to keep it interesting, such as mixing up instructors, or doing live demos or games to keep Scouts engaged.
When in the Day to Schedule your Course? Well, that depends on what is available for you and if school is in session. We have seen classes start as early as 6am and others run as late as 10pm. Plus since online courses can be taken by Scouts in 4 or more times zones, you may be surprised to see how many Scouts are excited about taking a course at a given time of day. Basically, morning, afternoon and evening classes all work for different Scouts.
We have seen reoccurring classes that meet at the same time and same day of week (Example – Every Monday at 6-7:30pm). Some programs schedule their class at the same time for 4-5 days in a single week (9-10am M, T, W, T). Both of these models work for different Scouts and Scouters.
When you publish the time for your classes, make sure you make it clear what time zone you are in.
You may find this is a problem, especially if you are playing videos on Zoom. A virtual meeting delivers a lot of information through your internet connection, and your internet connection or those of your Scouts may not be able to handle it. If you see video feeds freeze up or Scouts that need to be repeatedly readmitted, something is wrong. Here are a few tricks and lessons learned to help out.
Optimize your connection. If possible, turn off all other devices that are using the internet.
- Have the family take a break from Netflix, YouTube and video games until you are done with your meeting.
- Use a LAN connection when possible. LAN is better than WIFI. WIFI is better than cellular.
- Restart your computer prior to your meeting and shut down all programs that you don’t need for your meeting.
Reduce your load on our meeting platform. This is especially important if you have a large class of 25 or more users. Consider the following:
- Mute everyone. You should do this anyways to reduce background noise.
- Have everyone turn off their video. This has its drawbacks, but will reduce how many Scouts get dropped during a meeting.
- Avoid streaming videos if possible. It is better to play a video from your hard-drive than to stream it off of YouTube or another online service.
- Turn off your own audio when not needed. If you play a video, turn off your own audio. Even if you are not talking, audio takes up bandwidth.
- Turn off Chat. Especially for larger groups, chat can have a negative impact on bandwidth.
Per the BSA rules, you need to have two adults when meeting with Scouts. That means 2 adults in a virtual meeting and 2 adults in each breakout room, with at least 1 each with YPT.
- Get that ideal host if possible – a wing-man with videoconferencing experience that can run the technical side of the meeting, let in attendees, take attendance, remove others if needed, mute people and answer chat. Having an experienced CoHost can make your meeting a snap, especially if you are new to videoconferencing.
- Get someone from your unit – someone in your unit will likely be willing to sit in on a class if it helps Scouts. You just have to ask.
- Get a parent volunteer – If you send out an email prior to each of your meetings, you will likely find multiple adults willing to sit in and help.
This is unfortunately important. Here are a few basic rules:
- Secure your meeting with a password. This is the single most important measure you should take.
- Enable a waiting room. This allows you to screen who comes in.
- Limit who gets the meeting codes. Send meeting code and password only to participants who have signed up. Ask them not to share it.
- DON’T publish your meeting codes and passwords on the internet! Don’t post meeting codes on a website, Facebook or a calendar that can be accessed by anyone on the web.
- Disable Screenshare and whiteboard. There is a potential for bad things to happen with these. The host and co-hosts can use this, but you should disable others from using this feature.
Like with any meeting, setting the rules early on can make your meeting run so much more smoothly.
- Mute everyone. Scouts can unmute themselves when they need to share something, but should otherwise stay muted. Otherwise you will hear dogs barking, parents talking (or yelling) and babies crying in the background.
- Wear a Scout uniform. In the age of video classrooms, some Scouts are accustomed to showing up to school video classes in their pajamas. Scouts should be encouraged to wear a uniform. Hosts and Co-Hosts should also wear a uniform, or appropriate clothing (lab jacket, logo shirt, safety gear), if possible as uniforms let everyone know that this is an official Scouting event and should be taken seriously.
- Videos on. Scouts should turn on their video feeds. This helps them and other engage in the class. The exception is when you are experiencing or expecting internet lag and need to preserve bandwidth. In larger classes, you may wish to have Scouts turn off their videos to save bandwidth.
- Turn off Screenshare and whiteboard. It’s just too tempting for Scouts to draw on your screen or share something random. It will save a lot of grief if you just prevent this problem in the first place.
- No Chatbombing. Scouts know what that is and won’t do it if you tell them not to. Or consider just turning chat off.
Issuing confirmation for completion or partial completion for merit badges is huge. There are a number of ways that Merit Badge Counselors and troops are tackling this.
- PDF Blue Cards -There are eCard options available for Merit Badge Counselors that can be filled out and snail-mailed or emailed out to Scouts. The trick is signing them. They can be electronically signed, scanned or photographed and then emailed.
Pro-tip – If you are the paranoid type, you can use a BSA-signature instead of your bank-signature.
- ScoutBook – Merit Badge Counselors can sign off on Merit Badges in ScoutBook. Please note that some councils are short staffed and have not updated their lists of Merit Badge Counselors in Scoutbook. If this is the case, you won’t be able to connect to Scouts in Scoutbook. Also note that you may not be able to sign off on scouts who may still have Cub Scout connects in ScoutBook.
- Old School Paper – Some Merit Badge Counselors are still filling out the official blue cards and mailing them out to scouts.
- Council Run – Some councils are inputting completions sent in by Merit Badge Counselors. If you have this resource, you are in luck.
- Council eSystem – Several councils have set up their own eCard system and send out the cards or links after completion.
- Scoutmaster Agreements – Some Troops are allowing for email confirmation from Merit Badge Counselors.
You’ll need to figure out what works best for you.
If you are interested in running an online merit badge course, let us know. We can help advertise your course, set up registration, get you electronic Blue Cards and/or connect you with counselors who have experience running online programs with Scouts.
If you are a Merit Badge Councelor and interested in hosting a online meeting contact Neal Kazmi at firstname.lastname@example.org