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BSA invites girls into Scouting programs

After hearing about the need to address the reality of girls’ interest in the iconic BSA programs, Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh knew it was time to encourage the organization to discuss the demand.

Once word got out that the BSA was having a discussion about opening Scouting to the entire family — and welcoming girls and young women at all levels — Surbaugh’s phone started “blowing up” with texts and calls and emails. People confessed that they’ve had girls coming to their pack meetings for years.

Rather than send Cub Scout sisters away, these volunteers found fun, character-building stuff for the girls to do. In one pack, boys who completed Cub Scout Adventure requirements received the official Adventure loop while girls got to pick a toy from a treasure chest.

It wasn’t just Surbaugh’s phone that was abuzz with excitement. This was happening across the country as Scout executives and volunteers learned just how many girls already were an unofficial part of Cub Scout packs.

“This was not a few rogue packs that were doing this in a couple of councils,” Surbaugh says. “This is widespread, and it’s been going on for a very long time. The little sisters of Cub Scouts, they come to meetings and they want to do things. And they want to do the same things as boys.”

Beginning this year, the Boy Scouts of America will officially invite girls into Cub Scouting. A program for girls ages 11 to 17 will be announced later this year for projected introduction in 2019 and will enable young women to work toward the Eagle Scout rank.

So how did we get here? And what will the BSA look like once girls join the adventure at all levels? Here’s a complete look.

‘Family Program’

When a family shows up at a join-Scouting night, they’re told that Cub Scouting is a family-based program. Parents don’t cheer from the sidelines, a Cubmaster might say. They get to participate right alongside their son.

“Sometimes that’s been confusing for families,” Surbaugh says. “They come out to us on school night to sign up, and we’ve said, ‘family program, family program, family program.’ And when the family comes out, we say, ‘We just want that one,’ ” pointing at the boy.

“But what about my daughter?” some parents have asked.

Women have been a big part of the BSA since the 1930s, serving as volunteer leaders. Exploring welcomed young women in 1971, and Venturing was coed from its founding in 1998. Both programs, however, are for young women 14 and up.

Based on feedback from communities across the country, the BSA believed the demand was high for girls to join Cub Scouting, and both internal and external surveys confirmed that theory. Ninety percent of parents not involved with the BSA expressed interest in getting their daughter involved in programs like Cub Scouting.

Why? Today’s parents want to maximize what little free time they have. They don’t want to be a parental chauffeur bouncing from one activity to the next. They want to participate right alongside their kids.

“We know that families are looking for a place that they can bring the whole family,” Surbaugh says.

In fact, in the surveys conducted, convenience beat cost as a concern parents consider when thinking about their children’s activities, with many noting that a one-stop solution would be an appealing option.

With the outside demand palpable, the BSA formalized an inside conversation.

Time to Talk

Last April, Surbaugh invited every Scout executive in the country to Dallas. At the meeting, he wasn’t a prosecutor pleading his case. He merely presented the facts.

“I said, ‘My actions will be dictated by you,’ ” Surbaugh says. “ ‘I will not take this forward to volunteers unless you, my colleagues, agree.’ ”

The overwhelming response: Yes, take this to volunteers.

The next step was in May at the BSA’s National Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla. More than 1,000 volunteers attended; all but 15 local councils were represented.

Expanding the Talk

The group voted on whether to widen the conversation to include even more volunteers. Ninety-three percent of those 1,000 Scouters said yes.

“That’s pretty compelling,” Surbaugh says. “When 93 percent of your top leaders across the nation say we’ve got to move forward, we listen, and we react.”

Scout executives were asked 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 take a survey. Those who didn’t attend were not surveyed.

“You need the context,” Surbaugh says. “We needed to share with them what the real plan was. That this is a unique, hybrid model that is not present in the youth marketplace today.”

Surveys Say …

The survey was crafted to get an accurate representation of what people think. Experts scrutinized the questions, eliminating bias toward 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 at the National Annual Meeting. And those 1,000 aligned with the 200-plus Scout executives who showed up in Dallas.

“What we knew at that point is we’ve got an extremely accurate picture of what our Scouting family feels,” he says. “We know what they want.”

What do they want? Scouting options for the whole family. About 90 percent of Scouting families and leaders believe the BSA programs are relevant to boys and girls.

Best of Both Worlds

External demand is high. Internal demand is high. Our existing program content, education experts confirmed, is relevant for girls and young women. It’s time to move forward. But how?

The answer is a hybrid program unlike anything else around. Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls. Cub Scout packs, meanwhile, can include any combination of all-boy or all-girl dens. The choice is left to individual pack leaders in consultation with their chartered organization.

“If you’ve got a pack that has all boys in it and you want to keep doing that, we celebrate it and we love it. We think it’s fantastic,” Surbaugh says. “If you have a pack and you would like to involve girls, and you want to have girl dens and boy dens, you can do that.”

The result is a best-of-both-worlds approach that preserves the single-gender model while giving families a single entry point.

“I think all of us would agree: There are times that boys need to be with boys and girls need to be with girls. They progress and learn at different rates,” Surbaugh says. “There’s also times that there’s high value when they’re together.”

Working Toward Eagle

A program for girls ages 11 to 17 will be introduced in 2019. Details will be announced later this year.

The program will allow young women to work toward — 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 get — and don’t want — watered-down requirements.

“Eagle Scout is all about self-reliance. It’s about character. It’s about leadership. And it’s about service to others. That’s the core program,” Surbaugh says. “These are qualities that both young women and men can aspire to.”

Giving Parents Options

All this introspection has shown that parents need options to find what’s right for their family.

For some families, that starts in Cub Scouting. For others, the right program might be Girl Scouts or Boys & Girls Clubs or 4-H. The BSA wants those programs to succeed, too, and it doesn’t plan to recruit members away from any of them.

“We’re trying to attract the large percentage of parents who don’t have their children in any of these activities,” Surbaugh says. “Because I would contend that we have the best leadership development program in the world.”

This isn’t about “us vs. them.” It’s about all youth-serving organizations making our country an even better place.

“All boats can rise,” Surbaugh says. “The nation gets better when more kids are attached to a positive youth development organization that builds character, values and ethics.”

What’s Not Changing

Some big things won’t change this fall. The Scout Oath and Scout Law, activities, rank advancement requirements and Youth Protection policies remain the same. Uniforms will remain the same, too, though the fit and styling may change.

Existing program content and activities are appropriate for boys and girls alike, so there’s no need to change anything there. As always, great volunteers like you can tailor the activities to meet the developmental needs and abilities of your kids.

What about Youth Protection? The policies will match 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 both female and male leaders present. At least one of those leaders must be registered as an adult member of the BSA.