Merit Badge Guide - Essentials for Unit Leaders

Can Merit Badges be earned with another Council?

Yes, if it is part of a formal Council offering sponsored by another Council, then a GGAC Scout can participate and complete ANY Merit Badge requirement. For these offerings, the presumption is that the other Council is ensuring that all Merit Badge Counselors are registered/approved to teach the Merit Badge in question and that the sessions will be done in accordance with all Scouting requirements, including Youth Protection requirements, which includes AB506 requirements for California Counselors. 

Can Merit Badges be earned through Independent Classes or Offerings not sponsored by GGAC or another Scout Council?

Yes, the easiest way is if the counselor can be connected to the Scout in Scoutbook. Counselors have to have current Youth Protection Training and be approved by their home council to make this connection. There is a second benefit to leveraging Scoutbook is that it replaces the “blue card” since the connection indicates unit leader involvement and requirement completions can be recorded by the counselor. 

 

For a one-off offering by an individual or a small group of individuals, including (but not limited to) those advertised on social media or through third party or for-profit organizations, a Scout may participate in these sessions after some due diligence is done by the unit or GGAC Advancement Committee.  The unit leader or unit advancement coordinator must ensure that these sessions will be led by registered and approved Merit Badge Counselors. There are other topics that a unit should be aware of including (but not limited to) National’s guidance regarding Merit Badges with non-Scouting organizations (GTA, Topic 7.0.4.9) and appropriate costs charged to the Scout for taking Merit Badges (GTA, Topic 7.0.4.10). The Council Advancement Committee can help units with this review and maintain a list of those offerings that they have vetted.

What about Virtual Merit Badges?

The rules are the same as stated above regarding other-Council sponsored events and independent (third party or for-profit organizations) Merit Badge offerings. With the rise of virtual merit badge classes, a world of new opportunities has opened up for Scouts. They can earn all kinds of unusual merit badges on all kinds of schedules, well beyond those available through in-person meetings with counselors. However, with this new freedom come renewed responsibilities—for the Scout, for the Merit Badge Counselor, and for the unit leader—to ensure that all BSA policies and procedures are being followed. This includes the pre-start review process for a Unit Leader to confirm that the Scout understood the process of earning the particular badge. See Guide to Advancement Topic 5.0.8.0, Using Technology-Based Tools in Advancement.

Be aware of these key points about Merit badges

All Scouters, especially Unit Leaders and those with responsibility for advancement at the unit, district, or Council level are encouraged to read and become familiar with the Guide to Advancement (GTA). Following the link will give you an option download or view the document. 

Below are some key points that we want to draw your attention to.

Benefits of Merit Badges

There is more to merit badges than simply providing opportunities to learn skills. There is more to them than an introduction to lifetime hobbies, or the inspiration to pursue a career—though these invaluable results occur regularly. It all begins with a Scout’s initial interest and effort in a merit badge subject, followed by a discussion with the unit leader or designated assistant, continues through meetings with a counselor, and culminates in advancement (personal growth?) and recognition. It is an uncomplicated process that gives a Scout the confidence achieved through overcoming obstacles. Social skills improve. Self-reliance develops. Examples are set and followed. Fields of study and interest are explored beyond the limits of the school classroom. (GTA, Topic 7.0.0.1)

 

Each interaction with a registered adult is an opportunity for personal growth and learning on the part of the Scout. It is through this interaction and association with adults—the conversations, the counseling, the instruction and learning experiences—that mission-oriented Scouting takes place. (GTA, Topic 7.0.0.2) Shortcutting this process in the interest of efficiency robs the Scout of the opportunity to grow, which is the heart of the merit badge program.

A Scout’s First Steps to Earn a Merit Badge

When it comes to earning merit badges, GTA Topic 7.0.0.3 states in part that “before working with a counselor or attending a group or virtual merit badge opportunity, a Scout should meet with his or her unit leader.” While this does not mean the merit badge will be denied if they do not, it does mean that, if at all possible, the Scout and unit leader should discuss in advance the merit badge and the presentation environment (in-person/online, group/individual, etc.). The unit leader should investigate to see if there is any question as to the quality of the class, or if a Scout will be required to “actually and personally” fulfill all the requirements (GTA, Topic 7.0.3.2).

Completing Requirements – Actually and Personally

There must be attention to each individual’s projects and fulfillment of all requirements. We must know that every Scout—actually and personally—completed them. Sessions by  Merit Badge Counselors should be designed to follow all requirements as listed—no more and no less. They must do exactly what is stated in the requirements. If it says “show or demonstrate,” that is what the Scout must do. Just telling about it isn’t enough. The same thing holds true for such words as “make,” “list,” “in the field,” and “collect,” “identify,” and “label.” It is unacceptable to award badges on the basis of sitting in classrooms watching demonstrations, or remaining silent during discussions. (GTA, Topic 7.0.3.2)

Unofficial Worksheets and Learning Aids

Completing “worksheets” may suffice where a requirement calls for something in writing, but this DOES NOT work for a requirement where the Scout must discuss, tell, show, or demonstrate, etc. Scouts SHALL NOT be required to use these learning aids in order to complete a merit badge. (GTA, 7.0.4.8)

Questions on Fulfilling Merit Badge Requirements

A Scout who has earned a merit badge from a registered and approved counselor by actually and personally fulfilling the requirements as written will have met the purpose of the merit badge program and the contribution to the aims of Scouting. The Scout may keep the badge and count it toward advancement. (GTA, 7.0.4.6)  A unit leader should not retest or make a Scout redo a requirement that they have completed.  However, from time to time, it may be discovered that merit badges could not actually have been earned. For example, a Scout who returns from summer camp or a merit badge fair with evidence for an extraordinary number of badges could raise concerns. If, after consulting with those involved in the merit badge program—such as an event coordinator, the camp director, or a merit badge counselor—it becomes plainly evident that a youth could not have actually and personally fulfilled requirements as written, then there is recourse outlined in the Guide to Advancement that is available. It may result in a decision that some or all of the requirements for a badge could not have been fulfilled, and thus, that the badge was not actually earned. (GTA, 7.0.4.7)

Unit Leaders Serving as Merit Badge Counselors

Unit leaders wishing to counsel and sign off on merit badges must also qualify and register in the position of merit badge counselor and be approved for the badges they counsel according to council procedures.  (GTA, Topic 7.0.1.4)

Reporting Merit Badge Counselor Concerns

In the event unit leaders or other volunteers discover that any Merit Badge Counselors are not following mandated procedures such as working with the requirements as they are written, they should complete and submit to the Council Advancement Committee the Reporting Merit Badge Counseling Concerns form found in the appendix of th Guide to Advancement (GTA, Topic 11.1.0.0). Unit leaders should regularly review the policies and procedures related to the Merit Badge process with Scouts, parents, guardians, and leaders, and counsel them on proper methods as the need arises. (GTA, Topic 7.0.1.4)

References

How to verify an out of Council Merit Badge Counselor.

First, try to connect the Scout and counselor in Scoutbook. If that is successful, the counselor is registered and qualified. If unsuccessful, go to the counselor’s home council and search for their Advancement Administrators. Most will have an email address for either the Council Advancement Committee or Professional Advisor. Send an email asking if the counselor has been registered and qualified for the merit badge(s) in question and the status of their Youth Protection Training. Ask California councils if the counselor has completed AB506 training and LiveScan. The unit leader’s “blue card” signature verifies their counselor credentials verification.

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