Girl Scouts Online: Then and Now

Have you ZOOMed yet?

Thanks to the coronavirus quarantine, this program has, well, zoomed its way to prominence.

Schools, hospitals, shuttered businesses and more are using Zoom to create virtual classrooms, meetings, exercise classes, and more.

I had my first experience with the popular video platform yesterday. A group of former staff of IREX, the International Research and Exchanges Board, met online to share war stories about working and living in the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Patch from Snappy Logos

The Girl Scouts have also jumped on the Zoom express, using the platform to hold virtual troop meetings, long-distance staff meetings, discuss program proposals, and to bring guest speakers to the girls. The Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital held 60 virtual troop meetings last week.

Councils with Annual Meetings scheduled over the next few months are turning to Zoom as well. (As of April 7, 2020, I have no idea what will happen to the National Council Session scheduled for this October.)

Which troop has the privilege of being the first to go virtual?

First Online

Cyber Girl (1998-2010)

That honor goes to a REALLY large troop in western South Dakota. Starting in fall 2002, 2,400 girls worked on badges and service projects from their own, very isolated homes. The Black Hills Council sought to bring Girl Scouts to these girls and GSUSA responded with a new program. The virtual troop covered 34,000 square miles, with an average of six residents per square mile.

Girl Scouts on the Small Screen

In a lower-tech time, GSUSA experimented with training by television. The first programs were done in conjunction with public television stations.

In 1955, only 18 education television stations existed in the United States. One of the 18, the University of Alabama, turned to the local Girl Scouts for program suggestions. The Girl Scouts of Jefferson County had plenty of ideas and eventually came up with a three-month series of programs:

There were to be four programs on leadership of Senior troops, followed by two on outdoor activities and three on ranks and badges. Later, a series of afternoon telecasts was outlined to present a Girl Scout and a Boy Scout demonstrating outdoor skills, crafts, and dramatics.

Leader Magazine (June 1956): 15.
Radio-Television (1963-1979)

When the Camping Caravan (a station-wagon traveling the country and providing outdoor trainings), arrived in Alabama, its training team added their own flourish to the programs.

In one episode, camping expert Kit Hammett fried an egg over a tin-can stove. As the emcee closed the show, Kit flipped over her egg and bread creation to reveal toasty perfection just as the credits began to roll.

The Colorado Springs Council piloted another TV training program in 1958. Staff from the Training Division and the Radio-TV Section in New York created an eight-part series for new leaders. They also created a workbook that applied to all of the 30-minute shows.

A local commercial television station provided free air time for the shows. They were so popular that the council received many inquiries from non-Girl Scouts who had seen the programs and wanted to join.

Technologies and Tradeoffs

Whether on television or in cyberspace, the Girl Scouts have embraced new technologies to bring the movement to its members. But just as in the 1950s, today’s virtual programs risk leaving some girls behind. Girls may live in remote areas with poor internet service, and not every family has a computer. Let’s find a way to include them, too.

©2020 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian