ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If you wandered into the controlled chaos of a New Mexico FIRST LEGO League tournament on a Saturday morning, when teams of kids showed their skills designing, building and programming robots, you would have spotted more than a few Girl Scouts in the mix.
Welcome to the wide new world of Girl Scouting, where girls can explore everything from robotics to geocaching and local food.
In time for the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary this year, the organization has updated the badges girls earn for the first time since 1987, reflecting what many say is a new reality for scouting.
Take Casey Hoyt, 13, a Girl Scout with Troop 1201 in Los Lunas, who joined the robotics fray with the Scorpio Bots team. Hoyt already has more badges than she can count. Now she has her eye on the new Woodworker, Babysitter, Digital Movie Maker and First Aid badges.
Hoyt already has CPR and first aid licenses and has made a few woodworking projects, although she is working on her sawing skills.
As for digital movie making, “I just thought that one was cool,” she says. “It reminded me of Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh.”
New badges add more relevant skills while staying true to the legacy of the “three Cs”- cookies, camping and crafts, says Amanda Lopez, program coordinator for the Girl Scout Trails of New Mexico Trails, which serves Albuquerque and the state’s northern half.
“These are going to be a lot more fun and interactive than the older ones,” says Hoyt.
Many new badges – like Netiquette and Financing My Future – are geared to today’s science, finance and tech-savvy Girl Scouts. To earn a Netiquette badge, girls have to do tasks like interview someone who sends emails as part of their work or read articles about people who hurt others online.
Wait, you might ask, don’t Girl Scouts go camping and hiking anymore?
The new badges aren’t a complete departure. Car Care, Home Scientist and Babysitter stayed while Desktop Publishing and Looking Your Best are out.
Most girls still gravitate toward what are now called legacy badges – Artist, Athlete, Citizen, Cook, First Aid, Girl Scout Way and Naturalist, says Lopez.
Haley Hanson, 17, a Girl Scout at the Ambassador level, explains that girls still go camping, only now they might also shoot a video about their experience.
Of course, they still sell cookies. Only now, “the science is as prominent as the cookies,” Hanson says.
For her first new badge, Hanson worked on coaching by teaching Ultimate Frisbee at a Cub Scout camp. She is also working on a photography badge. She took a class in the ninth grade and absolutely loved it, she says.
When she was a Junior Girl Scout, she vowed to earn all the old badges. Now she plans to score all the new ones.
“They’re a lot of fun,” she says. “You push you to places you haven’t gone before.”
The new badges simplify what was an overly complex process, Lopez says. Instead of “Try-its” for Brownies and “IPs” for Cadettes, everyone earns badges.
New badges are broken into categories like “It’s Your World,” which includes Digital Arts and Science & Technology; “It’s Your Planet,” focusing on Craft and Outdoor Skills, and “It’s Your Story,” with subjects like Innovation and Animals.
In each category, girls explore similar skills as they move up in Girl Scouts. The new structure makes it easier for troops with multiple ages to plan projects, says Tony Base, director of fund development & communications for Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails. If a Cadette liked earning her Inside Government badge, she can complete a Public Policy badge as an Ambassador.
The new badges also tie skills more explicitly to community service, says Lopez. After girls earn a Practice with Purpose badge, she also gets tips on encouraging family fitness or creating an obstacle course for younger girls.
Girls have always earned badges for selling cookies, but the redesign also emphasizes financial literacy with a new section, says Lopez.
Girl Scouts – and their parents – say they like the changes, although there was some resistance at first.
“It was just a big change,” says Lopez. “It was a lot to process.”
Lori Van Note, leader for Troop 5123 in Albuquerque, says her 10- to 13-year-old girls, the Gear Girls, spent months preparing for the robotics competition with her husband, Zac Van Note.
“I know they love their robots,” she says.
Competing is fun but also a little scary, Girl Scout Rebekkah Norman says.
Van Note says no new badges are specifically for robotics, but girls can buy patches for fun or create their own badges. In fact, her daughter, Samantha Van Note, sports a robotics patch on her crowded brown vest.
Science and math aren’t usually associated with Girl Scouts, Van Note says. She likes the girls to have a chance to explore subjects like robotics that they might not do on their own. Science is the next evolution of Girl Scouts, Van Note says.
Hanson, who has been involved in robotics for five years and is a robotics mentor for young kids, has seen the evolution firsthand.
Hanson is now working on her Gold Award, a big project she will finish next year. She plans to start a nonprofit organization to help adults and children with physical disabilities learn robotics.
For a while, Girl Scout activities centered on “a lot of fashion and outward appearance,” she says, describing a discontinued project in which girls were asked to watch boys and report their observations.
Girl Scouts have always liked other things – the new badges are just catching up.
“The girls have never really changed,” Hanson says. “We aren’t the girls who sit around talking about boys and makeup.”