Camp Barstow’s bundle system keeps Scouts learning at summer camp

Photos courtesy of Larry Green

If you’ve attended summer camp with your unit, you’ve probably had to help Scouts who couldn’t find their merit badge class sites or had trouble getting from one site to another in time.

The staff at Camp Barstow in Batesburg, S.C., came up with a solution. Camp director Jason Spangler and program director Chris McDuffie implemented a “Barstow Bundle” system.

In this system, Scouts stay half the week at one site, working on multiple merit badges, and then on Wednesday afternoon, they switch and start working on another bundle of badges at another site. There’s no rushing from one side of the camp to the other at the end of each hour — a frequent time-consuming transition.

“We lost so much time in transition,” Spangler says. “We realized there were a lot of merit badges that fit together well. What if you taught them together?”

Previously, the Indian Waters Council camp used a traditional class structure with additional evening classes available.

“We started to have a lot of conversations; there must be a better way to do this,” Spangler says.

The bundle idea stemmed from a staff member’s request to recreate the Order of the Arrow village from the 2017 Jamboree. Spangler and McDuffie studied what could be offered in the village other than the Indian Lore merit badge. They determined the Leatherwork, Archery and Wood Carving badges could be good fits.

For the 2019 summer camp season, they decided to group all the merit badges offered into 18 different bundles.

“At first, Scout leaders were hesitant to the change,” says Doug Stone, Indian Waters Council Scout executive. “Within an hour, everyone realized, ‘This is pretty cool.’”

Innovative implementation

Instead of hourlong merit badge classes, Scouts meet for three morning sessions and two afternoon sessions, all at the same bundle site. Before the first session, all campers congregate at the camp’s parade field and counselors escort them to the site so everyone will know where to go. Each bundle group has multiple merit badge counselors, so the camp gets an 8-to-1 ratio of instructors to campers. The counselors don’t go requirement by requirement, instead integrating the merit badges’ curriculum into activities. There’s no “picnic table time,” Spangler says, because the Scouts remain active.

“That sense of consistency is really important in program delivery,” Stone says. “It’s about the experience — and they end up getting more merit badges.”

The camp also did away with the evening classes, instead opting for staff-guided activities like basketball tournaments, karaoke and boating tours.

This cohort model also naturally helped this summer as the camp followed COVID-19 protocols.

At the end of five sessions, Scouts start on a new bundle of merit badges. Spangler says this midweek switch often invigorates Scouts who would normally start feeling burned out. This system provides 14 hours of instruction per bundle, and because of the longer sessions, allows for offsite excursions. For example, in the “Aerospace” bundle — which includes the Aviation, Space Exploration and Astronomy merit badges — counselors take Scouts to a local airport, where they get a tour of Cessna airplanes. That’d be tough to do in a traditional format, Spangler says.

One drawback is that if a Scout has already earned a merit badge within a bundle, they repeat those requirements, but because of the lesson format, they’re doing those requirements without really realizing it.

“We’re able to create experiences rather than checking off requirements,” Spangler says.

For more about Camp Barstow, click here.

About Michael Freeman 445 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is an associate editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines.