At the Jacksonville Arboretum, 7-year-old Mary Young bounced up and down with excitement as she headed down a trail, showing off her new Cub Scout uniform.
Yes, Cub Scout. As in Boy Scouts of America.
She was the first girl to sign up for a North Florida Council pack since the national organization began accepting girls into the Cub program in June. Mary had been in Girl Scouts, but with her brother a Cub Scout and their mother a den leader, she tagged along to many Boy Scout activities.
Mary wanted to be more than a tag-a-long. She wanted to be an official participant in pack-wide camping trips, in the iconic Pinewood Derby, not be on the outside looking in.
“Because it’s just good to ... go and do these things,” Mary said.
Brother Gavin, 9, is thrilled.
“Finally,” he said. “My sister has been going with us on everything but never got recognition for it.”
In October 2017 the Boy Scouts of America board of directors unanimously approved admitting girls ages 6 to 11 into its Cub Scout program in 2018 and older girls into a new program in 2019. Also next year, the name of the older youth program will be Scouts BSA, while the name of the overall organization will remain Boy Scouts of America.
Just like their boy counterparts, older girls will be able to earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout.
The decision followed years of requests from families and girls, as well as research and input from current and prospective members and leaders, said Jack Sears, CEO of Boy Scouts of America’s Jacksonville-based North Florida Council.
“We believe that our programs are uniquely able to develop character and leadership skills in young people and we are proud to be able to make them available to both boys and girls,” he said. “We understand that families today are busier and more diverse than ever ... We think we owe it to families to offer our programs in a way that fits into their busy lives to deliver character development and values-based leadership training that Scouting promises.”
The Boy Scouts, which has about 2.3 million members ages 7 to 21 nationwide, has offered co-ed programs since 1971 through its Exploring and the Venturing programs. Also, its STEM Scout pilot program is available for both boys and girls. But the new guidelines further expand co-ed programs: Existing Cub packs may establish a new girl pack, a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack. Individual Cub dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls.
About 80 Cub Scout packs in North Florida have “signaled an interest to welcome” girls via girls-only dens, Sears said, and 504 girls have joined a den in one of those packs. Other packs will make a decision later based on demand, he said.
“Families today have many good options for character and leadership development programing for their families,” Sears said. “The values of [Boy] Scouting as detailed in the 12 points of the Scout Law — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent — are relevant and important for both young men and women.”
Still, the organization’s “commitment to single-gender offerings remains the same,” he said. “We acknowledge and celebrate that boys and girls develop differently and there are times that single-gender learning is most appropriate.”
On that point at least, Mary Anne Jacobs, CEO of the Jacksonville-based Girl Scouts of Gateway Council, agreed. But Girl Scouts is the appropriate teacher for girls, she said, because it has exclusively served them and researched their development for 106 years.
“We were certainly disappointed with the Boy Scout’s decision, not because it’s another competitor in the marketplace,” she said. “They’re not prepared to meet girls’ needs. ... Girls face unique challenges. As parents, we want to enroll them in programs that are girl-focused.”
The Boy Scout decision actually increased public awareness of Girl Scouts — “We had a growth spurt,” Jacobs said — but also led to some public confusion. So the organization has been working overtime to help families understand its specially-designed-for-girls programs. They have had help from the star power of national CEO Sylvia Acevedo, a Girl Scout who was one of the first Hispanic students to get a master’s in engineering from Stanford and later became a NASA rocket scientist. She is a longtime advocate of STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math — for young women.
They are and will continue to be girl-centric, Jacobs said, and will not be extending the welcome mat to boys.
“We know what we do, we know we do it well and we are going to stay hyper-focused,” Jacobs said.
Candice Young, Mary and Gavin’s mother, said having her son and daughter in Cub Scouts stemmed not from any ill will against the Girl Scouts, but from a busy mother’s packed schedule. The change has reduced her time on the road taking each of her children to different Scouting activities on different days and times, she said, and allows for far more family time.
“As a busy mother, I love activities we can do together,” she said. “I support any organization that gets youth busy, all these things are fine. ... But she wanted to go camping with her brother.”
That Gavin also loves sharing Cub Scouts with his sister warmed his mother’s heart.
“I was thrilled,” she said. “He is not too cool for school.”
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109