Troop Four: A look inside one of the first all-girl Scout troops

Troop+Four+poses+during+their+camping+trip+to+Antietam+National+Battlefield+in+December+right+before+being+able+to+light+lumineers+on+the+battlefield.

Courtesy Jen Khovananth

Troop Four poses during their camping trip to Antietam National Battlefield in December right before being able to light lumineers on the battlefield.

By Holly Adams, Walt Whitman High School

At first sight, the girls hard at work in a church basement on a Monday night look like they’re preparing for a zombie apocalypse. Scattered on the floor are mess kits, hundreds of feet of rope, first-aid kits and other wilderness survival supplies. This is Troop Four, one of the first all-female Boy Scout troops preparing for their upcoming camping trip by following the Boy Scouts’ 110-year-old motto: Be Prepared.  

As of Feb. 1, 2019, The Boy Scouts of America, now rebranded as Scouts BSA, allows girls from ages 11 to 17 to join. They also have the opportunity to earn Scouting’s highest rank, Eagle Scout. This change came after years of requests from families of girls who wished to join Boy Scouts but weren’t allowed. 

The decision was controversial; many people from both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts communities criticized it, favoring the traditional, gender-exclusive set up. However, several girls in the Bethesda area were excited to become scouts. With the help of Whitman parent Jen Khovananth as their scoutmaster, they formed Troop Four, now the largest all-girl troop in the Potomac scouting district.

Khovananth created Troop Four three days after the historic February decision. The diverse group of over 20 girls, from different backgrounds, ages and schools, gather in the basement of Concord Saint Andrew’s Church every Monday night. Each meeting, they work on learning all the survival skills they will need in their next adventure, like knot-tying and fire skills. They scribble notes on a dry-erase board with reminders to bring plenty of socks, to wear layers and to be able to recognize the signs of hypothermia for their January camping trip “Klondike.” There, over 800 BSA scouts, boys and girls, will gather for a weekend of wilderness survival-skills competitions and camping. 

The girls in Troop Four are determined and adventurous girls who are real “go-getters,” Khovananth said. She’s having trouble keeping up with them because they’re so eager to learn and take on new challenges, she said.  

“They’re amazing to watch,” Khovananth said. “They don’t stop. If they have a challenge, they just go right into it, and they embrace it. They lean in, and they create plans on how to overcome the challenge.”

Their first campout in March was “freezing” with around 50 mph winds, Khovananth said. Despite the treacherous conditions and lack of camping experience among the group, all of the girls came, stayed the whole weekend and went to the following meeting that Monday. Not only did they spend the entire weekend camping in the cold, working on their knife and woodworking skills, but they smiled and laughed while doing it, Khovananth said. 

Sophomore Merin Thomas joined Scouts BSA in the summer in addition to Girl Scouts, and said she has noticed how dedicated and passionate everyone in Troop Four is. Since Scouts BSA has only recently allowed girls in, all of the girls in Troop Four appreciate the opportunity much more, Thomas said. 

“We have a lot of really dedicated people,” Thomas said. “A lot of the time you see in Boy Scouts that people are in it because their parents make them do it, and they don’t really enjoy it. But everyone who’s there has some sort of passion for it, which I think is really cool.”

Senior Eliza Clegg’s family has a long lineage of Eagle Scouts, and she decided once the February 2019 decision came out that she wanted to be the first female Eagle Scout in her family. Patricia Clegg, Eliza’s mother, said that Eliza had always wanted to be a scout, like her brother, so her and her mother were very excited that the decision from Scouts BSA allowed their whole family to be involved in Scouts BSA. Eliza, who Khovananth said exemplified scout spirit, has been the Senior Patrol Leader — the highest ranked student leader in the troop, responsible for overall troop operations — since the troop began, and her mother is a troop leader for Troop Four.  

 Girls can take on leadership positions within the troop since organization happens on a peer-to-peer basis. The program allows the girls to lead meetings and activities with assistance from adult leaders, whereas in Girl Scouts where leadership comes primarily from adult leaders. The independence of Scouts BSA appealed to sophomores Lauren Tan and Sarah Price, who joined last year. 

Eliza said that Scouts BSA has allowed her to experience new things, giving her opportunities to ski and canoe, neither of which she had done before. Before becoming a scout, Eliza had never stepped foot on a boat, she said. 

“[Scouts] taught me leadership skills and how to talk to people because I am a very shy and anxious person,” Eliza said. “It takes me out of my comfort zone and makes me communicate better.”

Unlike Eliza, Tan never expected she would become a scout. But when her friend introduced her to the program, she decided that joining could push her to do things she normally wouldn’t do, and she signed up.  

“I’m wearing a Whitman music jacket; I’m like a theatre kid,” Tan said. “ I don’t do outdoor things. But this pushes me out of my comfort zone.” 

While Scouts BSA troops aren’t coed, Troop Four has created a partnership with a boys troop, Troop 233, who meets in the same church that they do. The boys troop has been very accepting of them, Khovananth said, and the troops have gone on many “family campouts” together as brother and sister troops. 

  1. Reid Lewis, the Scoutmaster of Troop 233, has supported the decision to include girls in Boy Scouts for a while, as he always wanted his daughter to have the same opportunities in Scouts BSA as his son had. Lewis said he was very excited to work with Scoutmaster Khovananth to help create Troop Four and build a partnership between Troop Four and his own troop.

“I felt like the girls didn’t have the same opportunity as boys, and that’s not supposed to be the way things are anymore,” Reid said. “Everyone is supposed to have the same opportunities.”

The system of merit badges gives the girls in Scouts BSA an opportunity to discover new activities and passions. Scouts earn badges after demonstrating expertise in disciplines ranging from animal science and shotgun shooting to astronomy and game design. The aim of these badges is to introduce scouts to new activities that may later connect them to a certain career path. When scouts earn 21 merit badges — 13 are mandatory, and the rest are for fun — they’re eligible to become Eagle Scouts. Meeting the high standards set for each badge requires a large time commitment to ensure that the scout receiving each badge is genuinely knowledgeable about the activity they’re mastering. 

Thomas joined Scouts BSA in addition to Girl Scouts because Scouts BSA does more camping and wilderness training. Thomas is working on her Gold Award in Girl Scouts as well as advancing to Star, Life and then the Eagle rank in Scouts BSA. Each program offers different opportunities. For Thomas it’s “the best of both worlds,” she said.

Although Scouts BSA is a big time commitment, with campouts taking up entire weekends, for Tan, it’s more than worth it, she said. For Price, this large time commitment and unique group of girls has created an irreplaceable community.

“I don’t really know what I would do without it at this point,” Price said. “It’s only been two months, but I don’t know how I would live without it.”

This story was originally published on The Black & White on February 25, 2020.