BALLWIN, Mo. — “I’m selling popcorn for my Cub Scout pack, would you like to buy some?”
It’s always tough this time of year to say no, but when the Boy Scout is a ponytailed, sparkly-shoe-wearing little girl? Nearly impossible.
“Kindergartners are lions,” said Abby Tenholder, pointing out the big cat on her little uniform.
Abby joined her school’s pack this school year partially because of her dad, Marc, who’s an Eagle Scout.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for them to learn what millions of boys have learned for many years,” said Marc.
As he starts from the beginning with his little girl, it’s also a new start for Boy Scouts of America: it’s been one year now since they first announced they’d allow girls to join their Cub Scout program, which is for elementary-aged kids.
“It’s been exciting,” said Joe Sadewasser, Director of Field Service for the Greater St. Louis Area Council of Boy Scouts of America.
This year, that council welcomed about 7,000 new Scouts. More than 1,000 of them are girls. That's slightly above average for councils around the nation. In total, 40,000 girls have signed up. In February, the older group will become known as Scouts BSA to accommodate girls joining them, too. But Sadewasser says not much has changed about the organization—though, don’t call them old school.
“We have over 200 STEM events throughout the year that are now accessible to boys and girls, our camping programs are wonderful for boys or girls,” said Sadewasser, “There’s access now for an entire group of people.”
Abby gives her involvement so far two thumbs up. Her parents say she’d also be welcome to join the Girl Scouts, if that’s what she was interested in.
For their part, the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri maintains the importance of single-gender programming, but say their numbers haven’t been adversely impacted by the Boy Scouts’ decision. (The local Girl Scout Council has the highest market share in the country and is the sixth largest in the nation—with more than 40,000 girls active.)
“There is ample, respected research that shows girls feel more comfortable expressing their ideas, moving out of their comfort zone, and stepping up to lead in single-gender environments. The all-girl environment Girl Scouts offers is a space where girls can develop and practice these leadership skills and use them to flex their personal power in co-ed spaces,” said Bonnie Barczykowski, CEO of Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, in a statement. Girl Scouts also have the opportunity to participate in STEM-focused activities and community programs.
But Sadewasser says they don’t feel like they have to be in competition at all.
“The goal here is not to compete with one another but really to try to engage kids that aren’t involved in either organization,” he said. “The idea here is to offer opportunities for families to do things together.”