In 1993 my wife earned the bronze medal for the congressional award (“CA”). In February of 2020 my son, Everett Lybrand, began his pursuit of the award and he received the gold medal in November of 2022, he will attend the ceremonies in June of 2023 in Washington DC. Finding consistent numbers for the award can be tricky – from what we can tell there are 50,000 students enrolled in the program at any given time, typically 5,000 are recognized each year (across all certificates and medals), and about 500 receive the top award – the gold medal – in a given year. For the state of New Hampshire, where we live – only one student received the gold medal in the most recent year, only 20 or so received it across the six New England states.
The Congressional Award is the United States Congress’ award for young Americans. It is non-partisan, voluntary, and non-competitive.CongressionalAward.org
With my wife’s background with the award, and with our son active in Scouts, BSA – the longest running partner organization of the CA – pursuing the award was pretty straight forward for us as a family. Over this time period new resources for the award have emerged.
Why do the award?
For our son, he was going to do most of the qualifying activities anyway as he had committed to completing the eagle rank with his scout troop. We’re fortunate that he was part of a large, well-organized, well run, New England troop – Troop 89 out of Medfield, Massachusetts. Basically by tracking his activities in the CA’s format, he completed the award with the addition of a write-up for the excursion – which itself was a trip to a Scout High Adventure Camp.
Our daughter is now working towards the award, and for her it provides a nice way to tie together many activities. It’s taking her more time to find the right excursion because she’s not been involved in scouting. The award is a structured way for a student to achieve something, to maintain a relationship with adults, to set goals, and to work towards those goals.
What helped him in pursuit of the award?
Sign up as early as possible.
Students can begin pursuit of the award at the age of 13 1/2. Sign up as close to that as possible. The gold award requires that the student complete at least one hour towards each of the three categories each month – for the gold medal the time period is 24 months.
Do 1 hour each month.
Write goals such that your student can complete at least one hour per month. Our son completed his gold medal over a period of 28 months because he missed opportunities to do an hour a few times early on in his process.
Find experienced advisers & validators.
Just like the board of review process in scouting, the adviser relationship is designed to create consistent interaction for your student with a trusted adult. Our son worked with an experienced trained adult from Scouts BSA. Our daughter is working with a family friend who has served as a director of a private school. All of our son’s validators came from his scout troop or his school.
Meet the Standards.
A big part of scouting is helping the scouts understand that they need to meet the standard, and also that there is no bonus for exceeding the standard. There is no ‘+’ version of a merit badge.
There’s a great Facebook page – Congressional Award Support – for people looking for help with the award. Many there are parents or validators who can help answer questions.
Inspire the student.
My guidance to my son for how to write-up his expedition would have been totally wrong. Instead, he sought out others who had done write-ups online. He was able to follow their guidance in constructing his report which was accepted when first submitted.
Track your progress.
We tracked our son’s progress in Google Sheets; I would advise logging in to the digital form that the award uses – Submittable – once at first to see the format. However, I wouldn’t use it to track your progress over time. Enter the information on your own in a format that you control.
Our son reviewed his progress with his validator quarterly, our daughter does it monthly.
Pick Reliable Validators and Advisers
A common question on the Facebook group is how to deal with validators and/or advisers that are taking a long time to reply. This can be very frustrating for a student who has had a regular habit of volunteering, only to struggle with a submission that requires a sign-off at the very end, and the adult is nowhere to be found. Pick people that are reliable. Pick an advisor that can also sign off as validator – they should be in the know about the status of the effort.
Found a great post on this topic from another parent: https://www.ournestisblest.com/post/how-earning-the-congressional-award-gold-medal-helped-our-daughter-earn-1-200-000-in-scholarships