Sometimes, a Scout earns a merit badge and discovers a new hobby.
But every so often, the opposite happens: The hobby comes first, and the Scout discovers there’s a merit badge to match.
During her freshman year at Fremd High School in Palatine, Ill., Abby Pollpeter registered for an elective that sounded interesting: Intro to Woodworking.
But because of COVID, the class was mostly taught through a computer screen. Abby was able to schedule a time to visit the school’s wood shop after hours, but something was missing.
“Hands-on experiences allow you to fully experience the topic and idea, allowing you to understand and remember it more,” she says. “Online just tells it to you, and you don’t do anything to ingrain it into your mind.”
By the time the class was complete, Abby’s woodworking skills were beginning to take root. But she was stumped about where to continue her lessons.
That’s when the lightbulb was lit.
“When I found out there was a Woodwork merit badge, I was excited,” Abby says. “It seemed like a good option to build more.”
Finding a counselor
Abby, now a First Class Scout from Troop 209 of the Pathway to Adventure Council, started the search for a merit badge counselor and realized she didn’t have to look far. Her uncle David Pollpeter is an engineer who has designed furniture for La-Z-Boy and has his own woodworking shop in North Carolina.
And so Abby and her twin sister, Isabel, devised the perfect summer vacation. Along with their Eagle Scout father, James, they would take the 12-hour drive to North Carolina to earn the Woodwork merit badge.
During the week of Woodwork, David showed Abby and Isabel how to safely use woodworking tools, discussed the properties of different types of wood and guided them through the steps necessary to create objects from wood.
With David’s guidance, Abby and Isabel hand-crafted wooden boxes, wooden bowls and wooden mats to place under potted plants.
By the time they began the drive back to Illinois, the twins had gained more than just an understanding of how to make useful objects out of oak, ash or maple. They gained confidence in their ability to learn new things and trust themselves.
“The box was the most complex build, but it was also the most fun because I got to learn about many different woodworking techniques,” Abby says. “I hope to be able to build in the future to make my life easier, like a shelf, and I hope that it can help me when creating things for my future career. I want to be an engineer.”
Accepting no substitute
During the pandemic, online instruction has been an unavoidable reality. That’s been true of any educational experience — from colleges to grade schools to merit badge classes.
But even though she understands the need for online classes, Abby still prefers in-person experiences. Her week with her uncle only solidified that feeling.
“Woodwork is one of those merit badges that requires an in-person class to learn efficiently,” she says. “You can be shown all there is to the merit badge online, but you can’t experience it as much as you would in person. Just the feeling of the different classes is different, too, with online having more distractions. It’s harder to speak up and ask questions.”
Isabel, a First Class Scout like her sister, agrees.
“I have taken online classes, and let me tell you, it is not easy,” she says. “You’re in charge of paying attention in class, and if you don’t pay attention, then what’s the point of being in that class? There are so many distractions around you in an online class — your phone, a website that’s pulled up, or what your dog is doing. You don’t really learn in the best possible way.”
Earning an extra-special merit badge is just one of the many positive experiences Abby and Isabel have enjoyed in Scouting.
Abby has relished the chance to meet other young people who, like her, are curious about the world around them and ready to gain new skills.
“It allows me to have fun learning something that I might not be able to readily learn outside of Scouts,” she says. “I’m really glad that they allowed girls to join in on the fun.”
Isabel, who was recently elected patrol leader, has seized on the chance to sharpen her leadership skills.
“While it might be challenging to communicate to the younger Scouts, I’m trying my best and still leading the patrol well,” she says. “I also learned that even leaders need help. My mom, dad and even sister help me plan and develop future meetings or ideas that will be interesting for not only me but the whole patrol.”
It’s all possible thanks to the hands-on experiences that are a signature part of Scouting — opportunities that Scouters like you help secure. The memories made during meetings, campouts and merit badge classes will stay with these Scouts for a long time.
“Even now, months after that vacation, I still have a feeling of accomplishment at what we achieved,” Abby says. “All thanks to the help of our uncle.”
Thanks to John Kenny of the Pathway to Adventure Council for the blog post idea.