Someone asked me how long, on average, does it take to be a First Class Scout? We know statistically Scouts who become First Class within the first year tend to stay in Scouting longer. I am pleased when Scouts advance because that’s one indicator that we are delivering on the promise, but it’s only one indicator.
In my experience Scouts take anywhere from six months to five years to reach First Class.
Will joined our troop when he was fourteen because he loved to go camping with his friends. He wasn’t ever all that focused on his own advancement, I don’t think he made it much beyond Second Class. Will became a great leader and mentor to younger Scouts, he truly cared for other people and wanted to help them. He enthusiastically attended his friend’s Eagle ceremonies, but never had much interest in it himself. When he graduated high School and was off to college he carried all the advantages of Scouting with him.
P.J. Joined Scouts when he was eleven, he advanced a rank or two and then stopped. P.J. was a happy kid and an enthusiastic camper who was there every time we opened the doors. When he was in the middle of his sixteenth year P.J. decided he wanted to be an Eagle Scout. He amazed us all with his focus (a word that few people would have associated with P.J. before then). He kept things moving and became an Eagle Scout just days before he turned eighteen.
Did Will get any less out of Scouting than P.J.?
We sometimes disconnect requirements from doing what Scouts do and what we want them to become. That’s when I think we get things mixed up. We want Scouts t advance because it indicates progress, but sometimes we miss that Scouts advance because they do the things that Scouts do, not because they “do requirements”.
My standing challenge for my youth leaders is to get all of their Scouts to First Class. I challenge them to plan their activities so there are many opportunities to advance that flow from participation, not from “doing requirements”.
I talk to Scouts about making goals for themselves individually. When are you going to be First Class? What’s your plan? What’s the next thing you need to do to get there?
Every camping trip is a First Class camping trip. What a Scout does to plan, prepare and participate naturally fulfills requirements towards First Class.
If we emphasize going camping then they go camping and in the course of that they fulfill requirements. Scouts don’t feel left behind or pressured, they just go camping and discover that they have fulfilled requirements afterwards.
When we focus the program on completing requirements rather than doing what Scouts do we are pressuring Scouts to advance (most times unwittingly and with the best of intentions). If they don’t fulfill requirements they conclude they are falling behind. At one point they may feel so far behind that they can’t ever catch up, and they leave.
If we focus on requirements Scouts will do them but many may not like doing them again. If we go camping Scouts learn and practice skills, they perfect them over time because it’s part of what they do, not because it’s something to check off a list.
Scouts focused on requirements will eventually not have any more requirements to challenge. If we’ve created the expectation that there will always be something to check off the list when the list is all filled up they are done.
If we focus on camping they learn to love going camping and doing fun stuff with their friends. They play, sit in the sun, go for a hike, take a swim not because they feel pressured by a list of things to do but because they truly enjoy doing it. Naturally, in the course of these things, they are building skills.
Once a Scout decides that they want to advance they simply cannot be stopped, sometimes that happens when they are eleven, sometimes when they are fifteen. Some Scouts may never show much interest in advancement at all. The important thing is not how fast or far they advance but who they become.