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Boy Scouts Undergoing Big Changes

February 10, 2019

FITCHBURG -- This is not your father’s Boy Scouts anymore.

As of Feb. 1, the organization is now named “Scouts BSA,” but that’s not the most notable change for the group’s older youth program. For the first time in the organization’s history, girls between the ages of 11 and 17 are now officially allowed to join.

While some may see this as a radical change for the Scouts, others see it as the group simply making official what has been an unofficial policy for decades.

“The girls are now officially a part of the troops, they can now officially earn their ranks, they can officially become Eagle Scouts, (and) it makes them eligible for other programs in scouting,” said Lynn Dennette, the scoutmaster for the newly-formed Scouts BSA Troop 6 in Gardner. “Some of my girls have brothers in the Boy Scouts, and they’ve been wanting to do what they’ve seen their brothers doing, and now they can earn the ranks and recognition they haven’t been able to until now.”

The decision to allow girls into the Boy Scouts was the second step in the program’s evolution.

The Cub Scouts has been welcoming girls into their ranks for several months, and officials said the change has been a great success, with approximately 67,000 girls joining the organization nationwide since the decision was made.

“We expect the same type of success for the launch for including girls in the Scouts BSA program,” said Todd Lamison, Scout Executive for the Heart of New England Council, which oversees the Scouts programs in Central Massachusetts.

Lamison said there have been six new BSA troops for girls launched since Feb. 1, including ones in Fitchburg, Gardner, and Winchendon.

“There has been strong interest to start a troop in the next couple of months in Rutland, Leominster, Holden, and Shrewsbury. It will be our goal to start a Scouts BSA troop to serve girls in every community.”

Josh Ratty, Scout master of Troop 7 in Lowell, said he applauds the decision to allow girls into the Boy Scouts, and calls it a change that is long overdue. He said several girls had joined Troop 7 in the past week.

“These young women have brought an incredible sense of enthusiasm into our troop and have picked up on many traditional scouting skills very quickly,” Ratty said. “The young men in our unit have welcomed them as their own, treating them as equals and helping them advance.”

In Winchendon this weekend, two girls from Cub Scout Troop 193 are expected to cross from Webelows (a Cub Scout rank) into Scouts BSA. The girls have earned their “Arrow of Light,” the highest rank in the Cub Scouts. and will among the first girls in the area with the opportunity to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.

“Before this (change), girls never achieve the rank of Eagle because they were not part of a Boy Scouts troop, but now they can earn their advancement to become an Eagle, if that’s their desire,” Denette said. “One of the girls in my troop already has her Gold Award in Girl Scouting, which is the highest award you can earn in Girl Scouting and now she wants to earn the rank of Eagle in Boy Scouts.”

Officials said they expect the first class of female Eagle Scouts will honored in 2020.

Eagle Scout is much more than a rank, officials said. The honor, which is typically awarded to scouts after their 17th birthday, is often recognized by college admissions officers, and allows scouts to become eligible for various scholarships. Also, military recruiters often allow Eagle Scouts to join at higher ranks and with higher pay, and the honor doesn’t look bad on a resume, either.

“The (Eagle Scout) rank shows that you have leadership skills, and many of the other basic requirements that boys needed to make Eagle,” Denette said.

Officials said the decision to offer the iconic Boy Scouts program to older girls was made in part from the input the organization received from the parents of current and prospective scouts, who said allowing girls to join would make it easier for them to participate in the program. Many parents said they would prefer it if their children could attend the same meetings on the same nights, regardless of gender.

“We believe we owe it to families to structure our program offerings in a way that fits into their busy lives to deliver the character development and values-based leadership training that is promised by the Scouts,” Lamison said. “We believe that the life lessons and leadership learned in the Boy Scouts of America’s programs will prepare both boys and girls to provide leadership to our communities today and tomorrow.”

Denette said she understood the concerns from some people that girls and boys should have separate scouting programs, especially among some Girl Scout leaders who fear an exodus from their own programs.

“Our intention is not to steal (the Girl Scouts’) girls, my intention is for girls to continue in both programs because they get different things from each, like camping and hiking and bicycling,” Denette said. She said that she also saw the gender-neutral program as a chance for families to do more together with their children. “Now, instead of having to bring your son to this activity and your daughter to that activity, the whole family can go and do one activity.”

Follow on Stephen Landry on Twitter @Landry17Stephen

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