Girl Scouts reach out to older participants

Posted: Monday, October 13, 2003

PHOENIX Since age 5, Patti Duncan has faithfully attended weekly Girl Scout meetings, earned badges by taking care of pets and writ-ing to soldiers, and sold cookies lots of cookies.

But each year, fewer of the 14-year-old's fellow troop members return to scouting. This year, in fact, she and her mother, troop leader Elaine Duncan, haven't been able to find the minimum five girls needed in their suburban Phoenix neighborhood to get an official troop designation.

''They didn't want to do the badge work and just wanted to hang out with their friends,'' said Patti, who started seeing fellow scouts leave around age 11. ''They've all dropped out practically.''

The Girl Scouts have an image problem with older girls, anyway. It seems that around age 11, the 91-year-old organization known for service, leadership development and, of course, those Thin Mints becomes, well, uncool.

So Girl Scouts of the USA has decided a kind of makeover is in order.

It launched a new program, called Studio 2B, in hopes of making itself more attractive to girls ages 11-17 who have written off scouting.

In Studio 2B, the usual trappings of traditional Girl Scouts uniforms, badges, weekly meetings are out. Instead, girls plan and name their own events. Any reward earning is strictly optional.

The program's Web site makes no direct reference to Girl Scouts, instead focusing on the stuff of teen magazines: relationships, advice columns, polls, skin care, planning for the future.

''How do you make up your face?'' asked one recent Web survey. (Most respondents identified themselves as a ''gloss-and-go girl.'')

If the girls do choose to earn rewards, they get silver bracelet charms in the shapes of mirrors, shoes and money bags for learning about things like body image, sexual harassment, money management and community service.

''One of the things that became very clear to us is that we need to make sure we're meeting the interests and needs of tweens and teens,'' said Harriet Mosatche, senior director of research and program for Girls Scouts of the USA. ''Everything was tested with girls. It is very much a 'by girls, for girls' approach.''

The program looks different depending on the region, and many councils have yet to fully launch Studio 2B. But the idea is a program run by girls, with advice typically from a college student or young adult rather than the stricter traditional program dictated by a troop leader.

The program does not replace traditional Girl Scout troops, which remain unchanged, but provides another way of introducing Girl Scouts to older girls, said Mosatche.

''We're not taking anything away from anyone. We're providing more options,'' she said.

Studio 2B girls, divided into groups ages 11-13, 13-15 and 15-17, generate ideas for and plan events at whatever frequency suits them.

In southeastern Georgia, the Studio 2B program sponsored a one-time event called ''Mass Chaos,'' where girls could attend sessions on subjects like travel, rock climbing or fashion design.

Girls in southwestern Louisiana did yoga, had their hair styled and got manicures during a spa night.

The council in Lafayette, La., is promoting Studio 2B in the classic teen girl hangout: shopping malls.

''We really find we are appealing to all girls,'' said Barbara Sorenson, Bayou Council assistant executive director.

The Cactus-Pine Council in Arizona used a grant to hold pilot Studio 2B events, including an aerobics night and a mall scavenger hunt. The local launch event was a night at swank salon where the girls learned about nail, skin and hair care.

''This is what they're already interested in,'' said Margaret Spicer, project manager of girl programming for the Cactus-Pine Council. The girls were so attentive in the salon, ''you could have heard a pin drop.''

But spa nights and mall events are a far cry from the activities with which the Girl Scouts have historically been associated. During World War I, Girl Scouts sold defense bonds. During World War II, they collected scrap metal and grew Victory Gardens.

Mary Rothschild, an Arizona State University professor who is working on a book about the role of scouting in American womanhood, said the evolution to Studio 2B, while surprising, is also somewhat predictable.

''Girl Scouting has always tried to both lead girls and keep up with what girls are doing,'' she said.

When the organization was founded in 1912, ''it was just wildly radical,'' said Rothschild, the director of women's studies at ASU. Girls weren't camping, marching, doing physical activity. ''They really challenged girls' traditional sex roles.''

''We know that what we have to offer is important for girls that either have never been in Girl Scouts or have dropped out,'' Mosatch said.

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