BSA invites girls into scouting programs
After hearing about the need to address the reality of girls’ interest in BSA’s iconic programs, Executive Scout Leader Mike Surbaugh knew it was time to encourage the organization to discuss the request. .
Once it became known that the BSA was having a discussion about opening up Scouting to the whole family – and welcoming girls and young women at all levels – Surbaugh’s phone started to ‘blow up’ with texts, calls and emails. People have confessed that girls have been coming to their pack meetings for years.
Rather than sending the Cub Sisters away, these volunteers found fun and rewarding activities for the girls. In one pack, boys who completed the Cub Scout adventure requirements received the official adventure loop while girls got to choose a toy from a treasure chest.
It wasn’t just Surbaugh’s phone that was buzzing. This was happening across the country as Scout leaders and volunteers learned how many girls were already unofficially part of Cub Scout packs.
“It wasn’t a few packs of thugs doing this in a few councils,” Surbaugh says. “It’s widespread, and it’s been going on for a very long time. The little Cub sisters, they come to meetings and they want to do things. And they want to do the same things as the boys.
Starting this year, the Boy Scouts of America will officially invite girls to Cub Scouting. A program for girls ages 11-17 will be announced later this year for an expected introduction in 2019 and will allow young women to work towards the Eagle Scout rank.
So how did we get here? And what will the BSA be like once the girls have joined the adventure at all levels? Here is a complete look.
When a family comes to a Scouting night, they are told that Cub Scouting is a family program. Parents don’t clap sideways, a Cubmaster might say. They can participate alongside their son.
“Sometimes it’s been confusing for families,” Surbaugh says. “They come to us on school nights to sign up, and we said ‘family program, family program, family program’. And when the family comes out, we say, ‘We just want this one,‘ ” pointing at the boy.
“But what about my daughter?” some parents asked.
Women have been a large part of the BSA since the 1930s, serving as volunteer leaders. Exploring welcomed young women in 1971 and Venturing has been a student since its founding in 1998. Both programs, however, are aimed at young women 14 and older.
Based on feedback from cIn communities across the country, the BSA believed demand was high for girls to join Cub Scouting, and internal and external surveys confirmed this theory. Ninety percent of parents not involved in the BSA expressed interest in involving their daughter in programs like Cub Scouting.
Why? Today’s parents want to maximize the little free time they have. They don’t want to be a parental driver bouncing from activity to activity. They want to participate alongside their children.
“We know that families are looking for a place where they can bring the whole family,” Surbaugh says.
In fact, in surveys conducted, convenience trumps cost as a concern parents consider when thinking about their children’s activities, with many noting that a one-stop solution would be an attractive option.
With the outside demand palpable, the BSA formalized an inside conversation.
It’s time to talk
Last April, Surbaugh invited all the country’s Scouting executives to Dallas. At the meeting, he was not a prosecutor arguing his case. He just presented the facts.
“I said, ‘My actions will be dictated by you,‘ ” Surbaugh said. “ ‘I will not pass this on to the volunteers unless you, my colleagues, agree.‘ ”
The overwhelming answer: Yes, bring that to the volunteers.
Next up was in May at the BSA National Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida. Over 1,000 volunteers attended; all but 15 local councils were represented.
Broaden the discourse
The group voted on whether to expand the conversation to include even more volunteers. Ninety-three percent of those 1,000 animators said yes.
“It’s pretty compelling,” Surbaugh says. “When 93% of your top leaders across the country say we need to move forward, we listen and we respond.”
Scout leaders have been invited to hold family town hall meetings. Most did, and all interested Scouts and Scouters were welcome.
Anyone who attended a town hall was asked to complete a survey. Those who did not participate were not interviewed.
“You need the context,” Surbaugh says. “We had to share with them what the real plan was. That it is a unique hybrid model that is not present in the youth market today. “
The survey was designed to get an accurate representation of what people think. The experts reviewed the questions, eliminating the bias towards a particular answer. The survey was, to use the official term, “institutionally valid”.
Some 11,000 surveys were returned. The BSA learned that these 11,000 opinions matched those of the 1,000 volunteers present at the national annual meeting. And those 1,000 lined up with the more than 200 scout executives who showed up in Dallas.
“What we knew at the time was that we had an extremely accurate picture of how our Scouting family is feeling,” he says. “We know what they want.”
What do they want? Scouting options for the whole family. About 90 percent of families and Scout leaders think BSA programs are relevant to boys and girls.
The best of both worlds
External demand is high. Internal demand is high. Our existing curriculum content, education experts confirmed, is relevant to girls and young women. It’s time to move on. But how?
The answer is a hybrid program unlike anything else. Cub dens will be unisex – all boys or all girls. Cub Scout packs, on the other hand, can include any combination of boy-only or girl-only dens. The choice is left to individual pack leaders in consultation with their approved organization.
“If you have a pack that’s all boys and you want to keep doing that, we celebrate it and we love it. We think that’s fantastic,” Surbaugh says. “If you have a pack and you want to involve the girls, and you want to have girl hangouts and boy hangouts, you can do that.”
The result is a best-of-both-worlds approach that preserves the unisex model while providing families with a unique entry point.
“I think we all agree: there are times when boys need to be with boys and girls need to be with girls. They progress and learn at different rates,” says Surbaugh. “There are also times when there is great value when they are together.”
Work towards the eagle
A program for girls aged 11-17 will be introduced in 2019. Details will be announced later this year.
The program will allow young women to work and earn Scouting’s highest honor, the Eagle Scout Award.
The requirements will be the same for young men and young women. Young women shouldn’t have – and don’t want – watered down demands.
“Eagle Scout is about self-reliance. It’s about character. It’s about leadership. qualities to which young women and men can aspire.”
Giving Parents Options
All of this soul-searching has shown that parents need options to find what’s right for their family.
For some families, it starts with the Cub. For others, the right program might be Girl Scouts or Boys & Girls Clubs or 4-H. The BSA wants these programs to be successful as well and has no plans to recruit members outside of one of them.
“We’re trying to appeal to the large percentage of parents who don’t have their kids in one of these activities,” Surbaugh says. “Because I would say we have the best leadership development program in the world.”
It’s not about “us versus them”. It’s all about the youth-serving organizations that make our country an even better place.
“All boats can go up,” Surbaugh says. “The nation improves when more children are attached to a positive youth development organization that builds character, values and ethics.”
What does not change
Some big things won’t change this fall. The Scout Oath and Scout Law, activities, conditions of advancement and youth protection policies remain the same. The uniforms will also remain the same, although the fit and style may change.
The content and activities of the existing program are suitable for both boys and girls, so there is no need to change anything. As always, great volunteers like you can tailor activities to meet your children’s developmental needs and abilities.
What about youth protection? The policies will match the existing rules in place for the Venturing program for young men and young women. When a Scouting activity includes both boys and girls, there must be female and male leaders present. At least one of these officers must be registered as an adult member of the BSA.