Boy Scouts now allowing girls to become Eagle Scouts

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In a historic policy change, the Boy Scouts of America will now open its door to girls.  Both boys and girls can earn the rank of Eagle Scout that has become so well known over time.

Pam Hyland, CEO of Girl Scouts of Southern New England based out of Warwick, isn’t convinced that’s all bad.

According to the Girl Scouts of America, “only Girl Scouts has the expertise to give girls and young women the tools they need for success.”

Hyland mirrored the national organization’s thoughts on the policy change, but only to an extent.

“I was disappointed in their decision because I do feel that the Girl Scouts program that is specifically designed for girls is the best place for girls,” Hyland said.             

Despite her disappointment with the decision, she realizes that what’s done is done and now girls and families have a decision to make in regards to Scouts.

“It’s an option that some girls might choose, and we do teach girls about how to make decisions that are right for them,” she said.  “It’s about girls deciding if they want to be in a program designed for girls or a program designed for boys.  We respect the decisions of girls.”

Hyland respects the decision for any girl to join the Boy Scouts, but she doesn’t really think it’ll be a popular decision for those girls already in Girl Scouts.

“I honestly don’t think it’s going to have any impact.  We’re a strong organization and we have a lot of pride in what we do,” she said.

Part of the reason she feels this way is the success of the Girl Scouts’ Gold Award, which is similar to the prestigious Eagle Scout rank.  Instead of harping on the decision made by the Boy Scouts last week, she wanted to shine a light on the work that Girl Scouts have been doing.

“Girl Scouts have the gold award, which has been called a few different things over the years,” said Hyland.  “The final product of the project alone involves 80 hours of their personal time and effort.”

She talked about one scout, Megan Scarborough, who personally wrote, illustrated and published a children’s book, The Color Blue, to earn her gold award.  The book sells on Amazon and is written to help kids (or adults) with any type of loss or disappointment in their lives.

The Boy Scouts of America announced Oct. 11 that young girls would be welcomed to join Cub Scouts and teenage girls will be able to become Eagle Scouts if they complete all the requirements.  The organization, which reported 2.3 million youth members in 2016, has had decreasing numbers of membership recently.  They decided to let girls join after 107 years of existence.  Starting in 2018, girls can join Cub Scouts, then in 2019 girls will be able to earn the Eagle Scout rank.

In a statement released last week, the Boy Scouts said they were doing this “after years of receiving requests from families and girls.”

In addition to citing a desire by girls to join, the statement said that the consolidation of the program is convenient for families with both boys and girls who want to join scouts.

Despite the decreasing numbers in membership nationally, the Narragansett Council, which oversees the Rhode Island, Southeastern Massachusetts and Connecticut Boy Scouts, has seen an increase recently.

“We’ve seen a four percent increase year-over-year in membership,” Tim McCandless, CEO of the Narragansett Council, said in a statement. “We believe this is due in part to a more thorough understanding of what families want and need when it comes to extracurricular activities. Today’s announcement follows an evaluation of what families and young people are looking for when it comes to extracurricular activities and scouting.”

He said that the new national initiative aligns with the scouts’ mission and values in the Narragansett Council and that their values are “relevant and important for both young men and women.”

A former Boy Scouts troop leader wishing to stay anonymous voiced concerns about the immediate changes this might bring about.

“You’re talking about 14 or 15-year-olds here, not just 1- or 12-year-olds,” he said. “There’s also the issue of some teenage girls not being completely comfortable having a male troop leader. There are a lot of people who think it’s a boys club and that girls won’t fit.”

Despite this, however, the former troop leader supports this change in many ways.

“Girl Scouts does not offer the same opportunities that Boy Scouts does to learn skills for the modern world,” he said. “I took my girls camping and they did all the things a boy does, like use an axe and start a fire. These are things they learn in Boy Scouts but not so much in Girl Scouts.”

“Why not teach them the things of the boys program?” he continued. “As far as I’m concerned, girls can keep up physically.”

Hyland, meanwhile, also spoke about some of the gender differences between girls and boys that she’s seen through her work but saw being in Girl Scouts as better than Boy Scouts in a lot of ways.

“One of the gender differences between girls and boys is that girls were taught from a young age that you don’t talk a lot about your accomplishments,” she said. “People perceive girls as being boastful when they talk about accomplishments, while boys are simply being proud when they do so.”

She also said that girls need a safe environment to share things they wouldn’t be comfortable doing in front of boys and that a specific curriculum designed for girls is integral to the program.

Despite Hyland’s opinions on some of differences of Girl Scouts from Boy Scouts, she spoke of a good relationship they’ve had here in Rhode Island with the Boy Scouts.

“We have a great relationship with the local Boy Scouts. Most recently we’d done a joint recruitment event at Warwick Mall. I think we can collaborate together without actually merging.”

While McCandless is in support of the new policy, Hyland is disappointed but doesn’t view it as having much of an effect on Girl Scouts, the anonymous troop leader sees merging as the only way to solve the issue.

“The best thing to do is to fuse them together and call it scouting,” he said. “If this catches fire, they’ll realize there’s a lot of good to be done.”

A merger into a single-scout organization may not “catch fire” for a while, but girls joining the ranks of Boy Scouts is imminent.  Opposing views can be found from both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but they can both agree that the values and mission of the scouts remain the same no matter what. 

And neither group in Rhode Island is particularly worried about losing membership anytime soon, either.

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