Sixteen third-graders — fifteen boys and one girl — met Oct. 10 at Kenwood Leadership Academy in Cedar Rapids for a Cub Scout meeting. That girl, Molly Biewen, 8, is one of the first girls in Cedar Rapids to join the Boy Scouts of America, after the organization announced last year October it would start admitting girls into is ranks.
The local Boy Scouts of America Hawkeye Area Council covers Benton, Cedar, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Washington counties. Council scout executive Sarah Dawson said about 100 girls have signed up since the Hawkeye Area Council started taking applications in mid-August.
That’s a relatively small number — the council serves over 5,600 youth. But it’s a historic change for the Boy Scouts, an organization that has been around in the United States since 1910.
Dawson said in many ways the shift was a long time coming. The Boy Scouts of America has had some co-ed programs since opening their Exploring career interest program to girls in 1971. In 1998, the Venturing program opened to girls, and girls are also part of the maritime-focused Sea Scouts.
Dawson said for the more well-known Cub and Boy Scouts, welcoming girls in is simply a way to help more youth get involved.
“I’ve been in scouting in five different councils, four different states over almost 20 years. In all those councils, I’ve had people ask me, why can’t my daughter participate? Why can’t my whole family come to these events?” she said.
At the moment, girls are only part of the Cub Scouts, the younger scouts in grades K-5. According to the Boy Scouts of America rules, they are supposed to still meet in single-gender dens. Dawson said with such low numbers of girls signing up, some of the girls’ dens are meeting at the same time as the boy dens they share grades with.
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“The program works best with at least five kids in the dens,” Dawson said. “The national (Boy Scouts of America) has tried to be flexible, because they know we’re going to be running into these issues.”
Starting in February, 2019, girls will be able to join the older youth program, which is changing its name from Boy Scouts of America to Scouts BSA. And next summer will be the first time girls will be able to attend summer resident camps — this summer they were able to participate in some day camps, but none with overnight stays.
At Biewen’s Cub Scouts meeting, if she was in her own den of one, no one mentioned it. Both her mother and father, Jennifer and Matt Biewen, are den leaders, and Jennifer Biewen is pack committee chair.
After the Cub Scouts saluted the flag, the students talked about what it means to be a scout.
“Do any new scouts know the Scout Law?” a leader asked.
Molly raised her hand, piping “I think I do!” before jumping to the front of the room to lead her fellow scouts in reciting their intention to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
Then it was time for this week’s lesson, on knife sharpening. The scouts were working toward their whittling chip card, which they must earn before being allowed to handle knives at scout camps and other events. Each third-grader had a pocket knife to practice with and a sharpening block. Parents sat with them and helped make sure they were handling the blades correctly.
“You’re starting to get up in big kid grades, that means we’re trusting you to make good decisions,” the leaders told the kids, before quizzing them on knife safety and proper use.
“Is carving your initials into a tree OK?” “False!” the kids chimed. “Because leave no trace! Leave no trace! Leave no trace!”
This den of third grade Cub Scouts is part of the bigger Cub Scout Pack 39, which includes multiple grades and draws from Kenwood, Wright and Garfield Elementaries.
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Jennifer and Matt Biewen got involved with Pack 39 in 2014 when their son Grady, now age 10, was a Tiger Scout. Jennifer Biewen said Molly was always at pack meetings, so signing up made sense.
“Molly came to all the events anyway, but she never received the recognition,” she said.
At the back of the room, a cadre of younger siblings of the third-graders played during the meeting, waiting for their parents to finish helping with the knife skills lesson. Some, boys and girls alike, were in Scout uniforms of their own from their own den meetings.
“We call them sister scouts,” Jennifer Biewen said of the girls like Molly who used to attend den meetings unofficially. “She’s been a scout all along. Now it’s just official, and she can wear the uniform and get the recognition.”
For Molly, it was a simple as wanting to spend time with her friends and looking up to her big brother.
“All of my friends are in it. Everyone in my family was in it,” she said with a shrug.
She said being the only girl in the den wasn’t always easy, but that she didn’t mind.
“It’s hard, but I’ve been meeting a lot of new friends,” she said.
She’s not sure if she’ll stay with the Boy Scouts — she is also signed up with the Girl Scouts, which she likes, too. At the end of the year, Jennifer Biewen said, her daughter will decide which one she wants to continue.
“My goal is to be an Eagle Scout,” Molly said.
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