WEST ORANGE, NJ — A group of elementary and middle school-aged girls gathered around a table in the Hazel Elementary School gym on a Friday night in April, making a list and sketching with markers. They were designing a flag — discussing what colors and logo would represent the Pine Patrol, the new girls division of Scouts BSA Troop 6. The flag design was eventually presented to the scoutmasters, and the girls enthusiastically described a flag featuring an image of a pine tree and the year the Pine Patrol was established, with battery-powered string lights on the handle to tie the whole thing together.
The girls are members of one of the first co-ed troops in Scouts BSA, formerly known as the Boy Scouts of America. As of Feb. 1, the organization allows girls to join its ranks to participate along with the boys. West Orange’s Troop 6 is one of the first to welcome girls, and has a girls division and a boys division with different scoutmasters; the divisions are linked together with one Troop committee.
“It’s the exact same program for the girls and the boys,” girls Scoutmaster Julia Ginocchio said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle on April 5. “This change came from the family side. Families were looking for a way to do more things together.”
Ginocchio said many families already participating in the program had children in both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and wanted to consolidate to be involved with just one organization. No other changes came along with allowing girls to join the Scouts, with the exception of the stitching on the uniform shirt being altered to say “Scouts BSA” instead of the now outdated “Boy Scouts of America.”
“They didn’t want to water it down,” Ginocchio said. “They talked about changing the uniform slightly and then decided, ‘Nope, we don’t want anything that distinguishes the girls from the boys.”
Both Ginocchio and Assistant Scoutmaster Charles Coxe have daughters and sons in the troop, and Coxe said the question he has been asked most often during the last two months is, “What’s wrong with Girl Scouts?”
“Nothing is wrong with Girl Scouts,” he said in an interview with the Chronicle on April 5. “It’s just a different program. There’s no reason they have to choose just one.”
The Scouts BSA program is more focused on outdoor activities like camping, wilderness skills and adventure. Some of the girls in Troop 6 had been Girl Scouts previously and some are completely new to Scouting. Either way, they are now the first to do something that no other generation of girls has done.
Troop 6 went to the Catskills on a camping trip recently and its members have already earned merit badges in the search and rescue, astronomy, skating and snow sports categories. They’ve had cookouts and tried snow sports; toured the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to earn merit badges for law, American heritage and citizenship; and have hiked a total of 15 miles.
But the Pine Patrol is just getting started. The group held elections for leadership positions April 5, ahead of planning more camping trips and hikes for the summer.
“They’re doing something that’s never been done before,” Coxe said. “This past weekend when these girls went camping, some of them had never camped before and they loved it. They really just embraced it; they loved the campfire and they loved being out in the woods.”
It’s something he and Ginocchio have seen before, having led trips for boys. Two years ago on a trip through historic Gettysburg that Coxe led for Boy Scouts and their families, girls who participated asked if they could join the Scouts instead of just tagging along. It was only a few months later that the announcement came that girls could join this year.
“The girls came away from that weekend saying, ‘Why can’t we be in Scouts? We like setting up our tent. We like building fires. We like cooking outside,’” Ginocchio said. “The announcement came a few months later and they were waiting for it.”
Kirsten Coxe, who attends Roosevelt Middle School and is one of the eight girls in the troop, was on that trip to Gettysburg and told the Chronicle on April 5 that the trip had fueled her desire to join the Scouts.
“I went on the trip to Gettysburg and it was really fun,” she said. “And I wanted to do it ever since then.”
Edison Middle School sixth-grader Annika Ginocchio has a brother who is a Scout, and that’s how she was introduced to the organization. She was already a Girl Scout, but the activities the Boy Scouts were doing interested her more.
“There wasn’t much outdoor stuff,” Annika said of being a Girl Scout. “We did cooking and dancing and art, but I thought this was a lot more interesting.”
Charlotte Levine, also a Roosevelt student, agreed.
“You can do outdoor things, and I wanted to do that because it seemed more fun,” she said in an interview with the Chronicle on April 5.
Speed bumps are inevitable when any widespread change is made, especially when the change is made to an organization that is more than 100 years old. But Charles Coxe and Julia Ginocchio said the girls’ introduction to Troop 6 has gone better than they had expected.
“We expected more resentment from the boys because it’s people coming into their space and there would be some awkwardness for the girls,” Charles Coxe said. “But I think it’s helped by the fact that we have three siblings and a couple of the girls knew several of the boys already. So that just made it more natural.”
Scouts are encouraged to rise through the ranks to reach the top tier of Eagle Scout, and in a few years this group will have a chance to be some of the first girls to do so. Julia Ginocchio said finding eight girls to enthusiastically join is an achievement in itself.
“I feel pretty fortunate that we were able to get eight girls that had never been in this troop together before or never really been in Scouts before,” she said. “They said, ‘OK, we’ll try it and see how it goes.’ That’s exciting.”
Makayla Arjoon had never been a Scout of any kind before and is one of the girls who decided to give it a chance.
“I wanted to try something different and learn different things,” the Edison sixth-grader said in an interview with the Chronicle on April 5. “This was where I could learn different kinds of things to do.”
It’s been nice to see the girls want to be trailblazers, according to Charles Coxe.
“That’s a big deal at that age to be the first and be like, ‘OK, I’m going to do something that no other girls are doing in this big group of boys,’” he said.
Photos by Amanda Valentovic and Courtesy of Julia Ginocchio