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Have The Girl Scouts Changed Since The Boy Scouts Let Girls In? They Haven't.

A group of Girl Scouts in uniform hold hands and walk in a parade.
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Even after the Boy Scouts began accepting girls of all ages and levels into their programs a couple of years ago, participation in the Girl Scouts hasn't declined at all.

The key has been giving girls a space for girls, built by them, especially when girls already have to participate in many mixed-gender spaces to begin with.

Next week, some of the first girls in the country will earn the designation of Eagle Scout — the highest rank in the Scouts BSA. It comes just over two years after girls were able to join the organization at all levels of scouting.

But what has that change meant for the Girl Scouts?

Even with the Boy Scouts of America accepting girls into all levels of scouting, the Girl Scouts has not seen a significant decline in membership.

Jennifer Bartkowski is the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas. She said the Girl Scouts organization doesn’t see the Boy Scouts of America — or Scouts BSA, as the organization is sometimes called — as competition, because they’re unique programs. She said the most important thing the Girl Scouts offers is a space that’s built by girls, for girls only.

“Girls are in a mixed gender space all of their lives,” Bartkowski said. “There are very few opportunities for girls to be in a single-gender space where they can rely on one another, build relationships with one another, be themselves, not have to compete for space, not have to show off in any kind of different way.”

Bartkowski said research shows that in schools, girls are less likely to raise their hands to answer questions in class if they don’t feel like they have the “perfect” answer. On the other hand, boys often just raise their hand and figure it out as they go. She said part of the Girl Scouts’ mission is to give girls that confidence to speak up.

“We want our girls to make mistakes and learn how to pick themselves up and go forward. We want them to find their voice and be able to speak their mind and speak their own truth. So those are all things that are done better in a girl only space,” Bartowski said.

The Girl Scouts also have a similar achievement to the Eagle Scout award called the Gold Award. Girls still have to earn badges for mastering certain skills and they still have to complete a community service project, but the Girl Scouts really emphasizes the lasting impact the project should have on the community.

Kendall Simon has earned both the Gold Award in Girl Scouts and she’ll officially receive her Eagle Scout rank at the board of review ceremony on Sunday. She said the Gold Award judgement process to approve the projects is more rigorous.

“The committee has been known to turn down projects and rule out entire categories of projects,” Simon said. “You can't do food drives, you can't build little libraries, and you can't clean headstones. The project is meant to leave a lasting impact, and I think that's why it's so hard to get, because unless you have that factor, you won't get approved.”

Two teenaged girls stand near a lake. One of the girls is holding a map and pointing to something in the distance.
Keren Carrión
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KERA
Kendall Simon, right, provides directions during a commandeering exercise on a Girl Scouts trip in September 2020. She will earn a Gold Award, the Girl Scout's highest rank for a Bible study curriculum project she created.

For Simon’s project, she wrote a Bible study curriculum for a Christian theatre company in Richardson. She taught and tested the curriculum at their children's theatre camp, and now they’ll use that curriculum long after she has graduated and gone on to other endeavors.

Other than the difference in the awards each organization offers, Simon said the Girl Scouts was also more career-focused, especially when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math.

“Girl Scouts really wants to teach you about career paths you could pursue in the future,” Simon said.

Madison Knefley, one of the inaugural female Eagle Scouts from North Texas, used to be a Girl Scout. She said the Scouts BSA was a better fit for her, and her brothers were already in Boy Scouts. Her mom said that also made things easier, since the whole family can go to scouting events together.

But Bartkowski, the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, said she still believes Girl Scouts is the best organization for young women to participate in.

“If for some reason, girls don't feel like that they can get what they want out of Girl Scouts, then we're going to have to tell our story better and we're going to amp up our game and we're going to have to do a better job at, you know, delivering the programs and services to our girls and ensuring that our volunteers feel supported,” she said.

Got a tip? Email Rebekah Morr at rmorr@kera.org. You can follow her on Twitter @bekah_morr.

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Rebekah Morr is KERA's All Things Considered newscaster and producer. She came to KERA from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a news assistant at Weekend All Things Considered.