US girls hoping to soar like Eagles in scouting

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Vaughn Eckhardt and Olivia Preston
Image caption,
Vaughn Eckhardt and Olivia Preston officially started with Scouts BSA

Girls across the US have begun taking part in the boy scouts for the first time. They are now able to work towards the Eagle award, the highest in US boy scouting, and the BBC has spoken to two who are beginning this journey.

In May 2018, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced it would change the name of its older scout programme to Scouts BSA and admit girls from February 2019, in a drive to be more inclusive.

Girls will not be mixed with the boys, but will be able to earn the same merit badges and achieve the same ranks.

A Scouts' spokeswoman said scout troops will be single-gendered because "boys and girls develop differently" and there are times when this type of learning is "most appropriate".

Image source, Bart Eckhardt
Image caption,
Vaughn stood next to her scout troop's flag - Troop 82 in Brownstown, Pennsylvania

Keeping it in the family

Scouting runs in Vaughn Eckhardt's family - her stepdad Bart was made an Eagle scout in 1971 and her stepbrothers were made Eagles in 1999 and 2001 respectively.

Their influence has given Vaughn a love of the outdoors, with particular interests in hiking and kayaking.

"It's amazing to be outside," she says. "I love to be outdoors with friends and family in the fresh air."

Last summer, Vaughn took part in a private sailing camp in St Michaels in Maryland, where she learnt to sail a dinghy single-handedly. The week went well overall, but she did capsize at one point.

Unfazed by this, Vaughn, who turned 11 in January, sees joining Scouts BSA as an opportunity to learn "survival skills".

"If I ever break my ankle or get stuck while hiking, I'll soon know what to do and how to ask for help. I've never broken any bones but my ballet teacher says the ankle is a common bone to break."

Vaughn has already attended scout meetings where she has learnt to start a fire and how to tie a variety of knots. She's also been on a camping trip with her troop in Brownstown, Pennsylvania.

"I started a fire and slept indoors. I wanted to sleep outdoors but no-one else my age wanted to, because the temperature outside was in single digits."

The BSA say that around 6% of scouts achieve the rank of Eagle each year.

Vaughn believes that achieving the rank of Eagle Scout would be "spectacular" and she's also hoping to make friends and "be outdoors" even when her family isn't.

Eagle Scout

Since 1912 the Eagle Scout has been the highest rank achievable within Scouts BSA. To achieve the rank you must:

  • Be active in your troop, team, crew, or ship for at least six months after achieving the rank of life scout
  • Earn 21 merit badges in areas like first aid, cooking, personal fitness and swimming before the age of 18
  • Complete an approved service project to benefit the wider community
  • Fill out an application form so that these achievements may be verified

Flying high

Image source, Erica Preston
Image caption,
Olivia Preston has joined Troop 1965 in Burke, Virginia

Olivia Preston has a black belt in taekwondo. "I'm goal-orientated," she says.

"I like having long-term goals to work towards, and now that I've achieved my black belt, I would love to become an Eagle Scout."

This 14-year-old doesn't like "sitting around doing nothing", something she makes clear by explaining that she also plays the clarinet and teaches others how to play.

But despite all of these interests, she still has time for the scouts.

In October, Olivia attended a scout meeting after a friend's mum, who is a troop leader, told her she could join.

During the meeting she took part in an obstacle course and was suspended on a wire among the trees in Burke, Virginia.

"It was so much fun but my arms were sore afterwards," she says. "It's a challenge navigating an obstacle course in the trees."

Olivia now hopes that joining the scouts can help her with her future career.

"I'm really interested in the aviation badge, because I'd like to become a pilot," she added.