Five Barrington-area kids are among the area's newest Cub Scouts, but here's the twist: They're girls.
The little ladies in kindergarten through fourth grade were among the first to join Cub Scouts earlier this year after the Boy Scouts of America opened its programs last fall to young people of their gender in what's called Family Scouting.
Starting Monday, these five are likely to be joined by more of their female peers, as all participating Cub Scout units in the area will open to girls ages 5 to 10.
The decision to allow girls was met with mixed reviews and generated debate about whether single-gender environments or programs open to all are the best way to teach girls and boys to grow into women and men.
The idea behind the effort at inclusion, Boy Scouting leaders say, is to adapt to the needs of busy families. Parents want all their kids involved in one Scouting program -- instead of separate activities -- to ease scheduling demands.
Starting Feb. 1, 2019, the inclusion will expand to older girls ages 11 to 17.
The new policy was seen as a major shift for Boy Scouts, a 108-year-old organization that recently moved to diversify its ranks by removing bans on openly gay Scouts and leaders and by allowing transgender members who identify as male.
Some Girl Scout leaders, however, say the change may not create the best formative opportunities for young ladies.
Girl Scouts of the USA has researched girls' learning tendencies for decades and developed its activities in response, said Nancy Wright, CEO of Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana.
"These experiences are customized with girls in mind," she said. "It creates opportunities for them to thrive individually that they may not be getting anywhere else in the world."
Boy Scouts, meanwhile, created programs "designed with boys in mind and girls just added on," Wright said.
But locally, the opportunity for girls to join Boy Scouts is being applauded by some parents who say there's nothing wrong with giving kids more options.
"I think it's great that there's more choice," said Hani Majeed of Naperville, whose 9- and 11-year-old daughters are involved with Girl Scouts through the Islamic Center of Naperville. "Politically, I know there are all these debates. But just as a parent, I think it's a great idea."
Cubmaster Tony Kircher, who leads Pack 229 based out of North Barrington Elementary School, agrees.
Kircher called the inclusion of girls "one of the best things that I've ever seen happen." He said his group was excited to be on the forefront as one of three "early adopter" packs in the suburbs, which allowed girls before all packs participating in Family Scouting can begin to do so this month. Siblings of boys who are already members became the first girls to join, no recruiting necessary.
"For our pack, it was natural for us to bring the girls in. They were already part of our pack family," Kircher said. "We were just thrilled when we could officially make them Cub Scouts."
For the North Barrington girls, already so familiar with Cub Scouts, little has changed.
But the shifts -- like getting uniforms and learning the Scout sign, oath and law -- have created meaningful equality.
Last year, when 6-year-old Addison Carver's older brother, Caden, joined Cub Scouts, she tagged along. She went on the same camping trips and hikes but got frustrated when she wasn't included in crafts, projects, badges and competitions.
"She had already seen a lot of what they did and experienced it," Addison's mother, Laurie Carver, said. "She's going and doing all these things, but she's not quite a member."
Until this year.
North Barrington's all-girls den had its first meeting Feb. 25. It was a big moment for Addison and her peers to be the Scouts they'd only watched in the past.
"She was excited she got to be in a uniform," Addison's mother said. "Being allowed to be more active in it will be good for her."
Single-gender so far
So far, girls are allowed into Cub Scouting in their own single-gender groups, called dens. Girls ages 5 to 10, the youngest allowed into Scouting, were the first to join. A total of 13 girls in kindergarten through fifth grade are involved with new all-girls dens in the suburbs in North Barrington as well as Oak Park and Park Ridge.
And as the organization allows in older girls starting next February, they eventually will be able to join boys in achieving the highest rank of Eagle Scout, said Kate Jacobs, director of marketing and communications for the local Pathway to Adventure Council of Boy Scouts of America.
"Cub Scouts has always been a family program, so there's no need for the program to change," Jacobs said. "It's exactly the same."
Well, check that.
One thing has changed, Kircher said, and that's terminology. As soon as his pack became an early adopter of girls' inclusion, he said, he updated the website to use gender-neutral language.
"I used to address 'You boys,'" he said. "Now I have to make sure that I'm saying 'You Scouts.'"
Scouts involved with the early all-girls dens are hoping one more thing will change, creating further cohesion and more convenience.
Instead of separating girls and boys into their own dens, which meet about twice a month for activities, and gathering them together only during monthly pack meetings with a larger group, Family Scouting participants hope both dens and packs can be open to all genders soon.
"The wise course of action is to have mixed-gender dens and make sure that you have mixed-gender leadership as well," Kircher said.
It's tough for Den 9 to come up with activities suitable for girls in kindergarten and in fourth grade. The age difference is a big deal for kids that young, which is part of why leaders say they'd prefer mixed-gender groups of kids the same age. But leaders and female Cub Scouts are making do.
"We're nothing if we're not rule followers, we Scouts," Kircher said. "So we're doing our best with it -- that's our motto: 'Do your best.'"