On a brisk, bright morning in mid-March, six teams of Scouts emerged from the woods at Rodney Scout Reservation near North East, Maryland, bearing maps, compasses, and smiles. They had just completed an orienteering course designed to help them complete a requirement toward the rank of First Class Scout.
Why is this remarkable?
Because these Scouts from Scouts BSA Troops 1923 and 5508 in the Del-Mar-Va Council were girls, and because two months prior, their troops did not yet exist.
In most of the world, Scouting is a co-ed program. Though lesser-known Boy Scouts of America (BSA) programs, such as Venture Scouts, have included young women since the 1960s, the US has been an outlier in offering Cub Scouts and the iconic Boy Scout program only to boys.
This started to change in late 2017 when BSA announced that its largest programs would open membership to girls, first with Cub Scouts in 2018 and then with the newly renamed ‘Scouts BSA’ program in 2019.
Locally, several troops have had fast starts in response to eager demand.
The largest of these so far is Troop 1923 at St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church in Pike Creek, which chartered on February 1, 2019. Fifteen active members, ages 11 through 15, meet weekly to work on rank requirements, learn new skills, plan campouts, and practice leadership methods using the hallmark patrol structure.
Most of the troop’s founding members joined because Scouts BSA provides an avenue for frequent outdoor adventure. Monthly camping trips aim to fulfill the goal that Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouting movement in 1910, called “a game with a purpose.”
Twelve-year-old Patrol Leader Scarlett Helmecki is one of the Scouts who has camped in mid-teens weather in the Poconos in February, tackled Class III rapids near Jim Thorpe in May, and improvised a crepe dinner over a camp stove. She says she’s “really excited about all of these different opportunities. The merit badges seem like a lot of fun, too, because you get to research something you’re into and then learn even more.”
A number of members have brothers, fathers, or others who have been involved in the program and wanted the same chances and challenges for themselves. And several were part of the first wave of girls who joined Cub Scouts in the fall and were ready to cross over to a Scouts BSA troop this spring.
After four monthly camping trips from February to May, the troop is gearing up for a week of summer camp back at Camp Rodney. “We work on the loaves-and-fishes model,” jokes Scoutmaster Patrick Kaser. “Area troops for boys have been incredibly supportive and have loaned us patrol boxes and tents for our campouts while we work to acquire supplies of our own.”
Trained, adult volunteers support the troop with experience gained from their work with other local troops or from their own backgrounds in scouting programs, which helps ensure that Scouts have the guidance they need to implement the program exactly as intended.
Troop 1923 Assistant Scoutmaster Erica Stevens and her daughters are involved in a variety of activities, each with their own strengths. “Through being a Girl Scout leader, Odyssey of the Mind coach, and now with Scouts BSA, it’s one more avenue through which I can help these kids achieve what they’re going to achieve,” she said.
With guidance from scouting volunteers, students learn to develop their skills and lead. “The thing about BSA that I love is it requires an amount of personal investment,” said Stevens. “They are responsible for making sure they achieve the next level and for demonstrating the competency. The trying and failing in a safe space is so important to development. You’re not always going to succeed in life, so how do we reroute and refocus?”
But the adage is true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Scouts BSA program is unchanged with the addition of girls; it’s the same path to the rank of Eagle Scout, and other than modifications to make language gender-neutral, the 130-plus merit badges and all other requirements remain the same. So do the program’s objectives: the very thing that attracts girls to it in the first place.
Troop 1923’s number, for example, honors the year Delaware finally ratified the 19th Amendment, four years after it was enshrined in the Constitution. Considering that one aim of Scouting is citizenship training, the number on the girls’ sleeves serves as a reminder that Scouts have a responsibility to work toward justice for all.
As with any major change, there is a period of adjustment for some. But District Executive Hunter Layne, who oversees the geographic area including Troops 1923 and 5508, noted that “boys aren’t losing anything. This is simply expanding a great program to include more youth, driven by demand from families.”
The single-gender troops provide room for all to thrive, he added. “The aims of Scouting—character development, citizenship training, personal fitness, and leadership development—apply to all.”
Nationally, almost 2,400 troops for girls formed in the first four months, with more than 19,000 girls signing up.
In addition to Troop 5508 in North Wilmington, Troop 111 in Middletown has also launched locally, and more troops are expected to start up in the coming years as girls in Cub Scouts progress through the program and cross over to Scouts BSA. Whether you know a child in Kindergarten through fifth grade eager to join one of the many area Cub Scout packs welcoming boys and girls as members or a youth ages 11–17 interested in Scouts BSA, visit beascout.scouting.org to find a unit near you.