CATHY BURKS, a Webelos II leader in Pack 177 in Belton, Texas, was looking for the perfect Boy Scout troop for the boys in her den but had no idea where to start.
Jason Akai, committee chairman of Pack 341 in Oak Forest, Ill., wanted to involve youth and leaders from the Cub Scout pack and Boy Scout troop in the crossover ceremony.
And Kathi Robertson, a Webelos I leader in Pack 3959 in Salt Lake City noticed her den meetings were too boring — not a good way to get the boys pumped for their move into Boy Scouting.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Each year as Webelos Scouts advance into Boy Scouting, many of these potential Scouts — because of lack of interest, poor relationships or unfamiliarity with the new program — fall through the cracks and leave Scouting for good.
“Preparing a boy for Boy Scouts is one of the purposes of Cub Scouts,” says Bob Scott, the BSA’s Cub Scout experience manager. “It’s very important that Cub Scout leaders understand and plan toward that transition.”
Why is the transition so crucial?
“Studies show that the longer a boy stays in the Scouting program, the more likely he is to demonstrate those behaviors and attitudes associated with good citizenship, character and fitness,” Scott explains. “For boys to benefit fully from the Scouting program, they need to experience not only the fun of Cub Scouting but also the skills and leadership opportunities of Boy Scouting.”
The BSA’s guidelines recommend the Webelos transition passage from Cub Scout pack to Boy Scout troop be smooth, with no time lost in between. To help Cub Scout parents and leaders ensure an effective transition into Boy Scouting, we’ve compiled the following tips.
How to find the right troop for your Webelos transition
The first step in a successful Webelos (Webelos-to-Scout) transition is finding the right Boy Scout troop to join. Some packs, like those sponsored by many churches, are already “feeder” packs for specific troops, which makes this step easy. Parents and Webelos Scouts, with help from their pack leaders, should do some homework in preparation for the move by learning about all of the options available in their local area.
A key factor in deciding on a troop is the location and time of meetings. Make sure both of these fit your needs. But finding a good troop goes deeper than just schedule considerations.
“The key is getting the Webelos Scouts introduced to the boys in the troop,” says Bob Scott, the BSA’s Cub Scout experience manager. “It’s a relationships business.”
Meeting with potential troops — either during a formal visit or at an activity — allows parents and boys to interact and decide if the troop is a good fit. Visits can be scheduled by parents, packs or even with help from the district. Some districts also sponsor activities designed to bring Webelos Scouts and Boy Scouts together, such as a Webelos Woods campout, daytime activity or troop open house.
“Visit at least three troops on two different occasions,” suggests Katie Bradeen, committee chair for Pack 51 in Schertz, Texas. “Talk with other parents and leaders and ask questions about fundraising, communication styles, advancement, troop gear, committee needs, types of activities and other troop functions.”
Works on Many Levels
If possible, look for a good age mix in a prospective troop.
“It is helpful to join a troop which has boys at each grade level, so that when you join there are still some older Scouts in the troop,” explains Sue Miller, a former Webelos Scout parent in Portland, Ore. “Make sure to join a troop that is boy-led.”
Some troops have a new-Scout patrol designed specifically to welcome and include younger boys in a comfortable setting. Or, if a Webelos Scout has special needs, such as a learning disability, search for a troop with knowledge on how to deal with his particular situation.
Boys can talk to current Boy Scouts to find out what they like best and what they would change in their troop. Then, parents and Webelos Scouts should compare notes and discuss their choice together.
Cathy Burks, a Webelos II leader from Texas, took her den to visit a different troop every month from August through January. “The boys and their parents used a chart to track the differences and similarities between each troop,” she says. “Then they compared the troops and decided which factors were most important to them.”
In addition to visiting and participating with local troops at their events, Salt Lake City Scouter Kathi Robertson says, “We also invited Scouts to attend a few of our monthly Webelos outings. The Scouts were excited to come, and the boys all became friends, so the transition to the troop was much easier.”
Find a Fit
How do you know when you’ve found the right troop? Bradeen remembers: “I could hear it in my son’s voice and the way his face lit up when he talked about the experience he had. It felt like the troop fit.”
“Fit” is a good description regarding the BSA’s official advice on the subject. Webelos Scouts and their families should be familiar and comfortable with the youth and adult leaders of the troop and feel excited about beginning this new adventure.
Webelos Scouts in Burks’ Pack 177 transferred into three different troops. “One boy chose the troop where his brother already attended, while another Scout chose a troop in a neighboring town,” she says. Her son intentionally chose a smaller troop “where he could have more personal attention and early leadership opportunities.”
One caution from Bradeen: “Remember that even if the troop chosen turns out not to be the right one initially, don’t leave Boy Scouting. Instead, change troops!”
How to plan a better Webelos transition crossover ceremony
Found the perfect Boy Scout troop? The next element of a smooth transition is a meaningful crossover ceremony.
Ceremonies leave lasting impressions on boys and teach important principles to those involved and those watching. The BSA says the Webelos Scout’s graduation ceremony should clearly signify his transition to a new level of Scouting. While ceremonies are as unique and varied as Cub Scouts themselves, here are a few tips for planning an unforgettable one.
Take It Literally
Make sure the ceremony visually represents the progression from Cub Scouting to Boy Scouting.
Many packs use a physical bridge — indoor or outdoor — to symbolize the crossover. Simple bridges can be built, dismantled and stored for later reuse. Outdoor bridges at parks or nature centers provide free crossover locations in a natural setting. (Search “Scouting crossover bridges” online to find tons of ideas and options.)
Include Both Sides
Even without a bridge, Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting should clearly be represented during the event, with leaders and boys present from the boys’ pack and their future troop (or troops).
“We did our crossover at the fire ring of the local Scout camp,” remembers Texas Cub Scouter Cathy Burks. “Scoutmasters and Scouts came from each chosen troop and gave a neckerchief and slide to the boys joining their unit. It was awesome.”
Jason Akai, committee chairman of Pack 341 in Oak Forest, Ill., has his advancing Webelos Scouts bid farewell to their fellow Cub Scouts and then sign their names on the pack bridge with a marker. He includes formal speaking parts for Cub Scout leaders, boys and Boy Scout leaders. “Having everyone involved in the crossover adds to the meaningfulness of the ceremony,” he says.
Webelos Den Leader Alice Herrick of Pack 171 in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., organizes a dinner with formal written invitations. “The boys present their mom with a pin and read a letter of thanks to each of their former den leaders before they cross the bridge to their new troop.”
Many Pieces of Flair
Finally, don’t forget the pizzazz — this is Cub Scouting, after all. Your pack’s crossover ceremony should include a theme, symbolic gifts or even special lighting.
Marc Dworkin, former Cubmaster of Pack 252 in Allendale, N.J., gave each of the graduating Webelos Scouts an (imitation) eagle feather as they crossed the bridge.
Dworkin told the boys, “This feather is not really a gift. I want you to return it to me at your Eagle Scout court of honor.”
Some crossovers include an Arrow of Light ceremony. Kendall Brown of Pack 4060 in Arab, Ala., invited the ceremony team from the district Order of the Arrow chapter to conduct the Arrow of Light and bridging ceremonies. “Four OA members attended in full dress regalia,” he recalls. “Not only did the Webelos Scouts, their parents and special family guests love it, the Tiger Cubs were completely mesmerized.”
When ceremonies are meaningful — and boys feel welcomed — Webelos Scouts and parents understand the significance of their advancement and naturally want to continue on the Scouting trail.
How to avoid a final-year burnout
In high school it’s called “senioritis.” Some Webelos Scouts feel similar final-year doldrums as they eagerly await the transition into Boy Scouting.
This can be avoided. How do effective Cub Scout leaders maintain momentum with their Webelos Scouts? Keep it exciting.
First Ingredient: Fun
“An action-packed Webelos program is the best way to encourage Webelos-to-Scout transition,” says Webelos I leader Kathi Robertson. After observing her bored boys, she realized that much of each meeting involved sitting.
Robertson started including the Webelos Scouts in planning dynamic activities for every den meeting as well as an outdoor field trip. “Soon, the boys were eager to come to meetings, and when it was time to transition to a troop, they were excited because they knew that Scouting would include activities they wanted.”
James and Beth Worthen, parents and leaders in Pack 535 of Casper, Wyo., say camping is another key to maintaining Webelos momentum. “There is a fundamental shift between Cubs and Boy Scouts in the emphasis on overnight camping, and the Webelos years can help make that transition.”
Patrick Stanley, Troop 84 Scoutmaster in Sulphur, La., agrees. “Get your boys to a Webelos resident camp the summer between fourth and fifth grades. Most of the Scouts lost in transition do not stop attending because the crossover ceremony wasn’t meaningful; it’s often because a month or two later they are overwhelmed by a weeklong summer camp with the troop.”
A den chief or Boy Scout could join the Webelos Scouts on their campout and give tips on how the troop handles events like flag ceremony, waiter duty or campsite inspection.
Help Is on the Way
The new Cub Scout program — rolling out in May 2015 — has additional camping experiences for boys from Wolf Cubs through Webelos Scouts that are specifically designed to prepare the boys for the Scouting transition.
“During those first three to four months of the Boy Scout experience, many troops are going to summer camp, so we’re trying to make sure the new Scout is prepared for that,” Scott explains.
Troops Play a Role
Finally, once boys cross over, good relationships are key to maintaining momentum in the Scouting program.
“It’s really incumbent on the Boy Scout leaders to be positive receivers and to work together with the pack,” says Scott.
“Adult leaders can foster a culture that promotes retention efforts handled by the boys themselves,” James Worthen says. “Patrol leaders and Scouts can mentor, invite and make assignments so that new Scouts feel they are a valuable part of the troop.”