For the girls in Troop 40348 from Girl Scouts of Central Texas, Girl Scouting is about bringing all their passions together in one place: underwater! The multi-level group (with 11 girls ranging in age from 12 to 16 years old) is filled with avid scuba divers, environmentalists, and adventurers. They do a lot of traditional troop activities—like go camping, sell cookies, sing songs, and give back to the community—they just do most of it underwater, which adds a whole other level of WOW to their Girl Scout experience. And at the core of everything they do is their ultimate goal and passion of plotting ways to save the ocean!
These girls are risk-takers and innovators through and through. With the help of five extraordinary troop leaders (who are all professional scuba dive instructors ranging from assistant instructor to course director), the girls can figure out how to flex just about any activity into something they can do underwater—from selling Girl Scout Cookies to cleaning up trash to carving Halloween pumpkins—and everything in-between. The troop has also learned how to do both shallow dives and deep dives, how to navigate underwater and scuba dive in kelp, and how to clean up invasive species in local springs. So fierce!
Michelle, one of the troop’s leaders, explained that during their first year as a troop, the girls were newly certified in scuba diving and didn’t have a concept of what was possible underwater. But now as they head into their second year, they’re much more involved with brainstorming and planning activities and have made the experience their own.
“Two of my favorite activities I’ve done with the scuba troop are probably our underwater game night and underwater glow party,” said AJ, age 12. “For game night, we played cards and did a ring toss, which helped us practice our neutral buoyancy in the water. Our glow party consisted of many glow-in-the-dark toys and beach balls—it was so much fun!”
For Julia, age 15, and Bella, age 13, learning how to carve jack-o’-lanterns underwater took the cake because it made a relatively easy activity much more challenging and fun. “Underwater pumpkin carving showed me that it’s hard to keep positivity-buoyant things under the water!” Bella said. In true Girl Scout style, every activity these girls do leads to learning and discovery that fills their fun with purpose.
The girls have even started a yearly tradition of hosting a Women’s Dive Day to educate people on the contributions of female scuba divers. The first event focused on famous female divers throughout history, and in 2018, the event will specifically recognize female underwater photographers. “In 2017, we hosted a sort of scavenger hunt,” Bella described, “where [the girls in the troop] each wrote about a famous diver and placed our write-ups around Windy Point Park in Lake Travis, where divers could discover them and learn about these women. It was super cool, and people had a great time!”
But beyond all the fun and learning, these girls are truly passionate and focused on ocean conservation and spreading their message to others to build a better future for themselves and all of us—because that’s what Girl Scouts do! Almost all of the activities and projects the girls do have some kind of ocean conservation twist. For example, when they use American Sign Language to sign traditional camp songs underwater, they also modify the songs to incorporate ocean conservation lyrics—so creatve!
The girls even use their troop’s social media accounts (follow their adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) and their very own girl-led blog (all overseen by their troop leaders) to educate others about ocean conservation and champion their cause. They also actively spread the news about conservation in their schools and are always researching related efforts, like aquatic life conservation; how to minimize the use of plastic, particularly plastic straws; and what divers in the Women Divers Hall of Fame as well as underwater photographers have to say about scuba diving and the ocean.
When asked why ocean conservation is so important to her, AJ declared simply and powerfully, “Our Earth is suffering.” She went on to explain why it’s so critical to educate herself and others to create change: “So many people don’t even realize that our Earth is suffering, but both the Earth and its inhabitants are being hurt from our carelessness and lack of awareness. Before this experience, I didn’t know anything about what happens to marine animals because of human waste. That’s why I’m so glad I joined the scuba diving troop. If I know more, I can spread that knowledge to others and make a difference.”
Bella’s dream is for her future children and grandchildren to be able to see and enjoy all the beautiful sites and adventures the ocean has to offer. Through her involvement with the scuba troop, she has learned many different ways to help keep our oceans, rivers, and lakes clean and how to be more environmentally conscious with the products we use every day.
Karina, one of the girls’ troop leaders, manages social media for the troop. “I’m a former Girl Scout, so when my mom and Michelle approached me about doing this, I was really intrigued,” she said. “And in a little over a year, we have managed to take the scuba diving troop from being an [occasional] experience to being more of a lifestyle. These girls are really scuba divers. They take care of the ocean and bring a unique twist to Girl Scouting.”
“I think that a lot of Girl Scouting is about not just learning new things or having new experiences but also about building camaraderie,” Karina continued. “Our girls might not have been friends otherwise, but this scuba troop is really something that has bonded them together. In the diving community, it is very uncommon to see a group of girls excited about scuba diving and ocean conservation. That piece of this is totally due to Girl Scouts. They’ve even taken the Girl Scout Law and created their own scuba version.”
Michelle added, “Because most of these girls were already Girl Scouts to begin with, the idea of making new friends, being respectful, and working together to leave a place better than they found it, even when they’re on land, was already firmly instilled in them,” she said.
When asked how she works to uphold the Girl Scout Law through scuba, AJ said, “It is important that we love our friends. Part of love is communicating with others. If we didn’t have good communication underwater, we would be in a whole lot of trouble.” Bella says she upholds the Girl Scout Law through scuba by asking people things like, “Did you know that more than 500 million straws are used each day in the United States, and many of them eventually end up in the ocean killing aquatic life?” By sharing these kinds of facts with others, she’s been able to change the way people think and even get most of her family members to start using reusable metal straws—way to go, Bella!
Although the girls’ different activities have been primarily promoted within the local dive community, which has been incredibly supportive, the unique group has also been welcomed and backed by the community at large. Even the international dive community has expressed interest and praise for everything the girls are doing.
“There were all these girls in the community who were really interested in scuba diving and wanted to get certified along with other girls who had already been certified through Girl Scouts but had no place to dive regularly,” Michelle explained. “Sure, they could go diving with their families, but we thought, how much more fun would it be for them to be able to do it with other girls and do it safely and often?”
And safety is a cornerstone of their experience. As Karen said, “Everything we do is very, very safe. We spend a lot of time talking about safety with the girls. We tell them, ‘Let’s have fun, but let’s not forget that we always have to follow Girl Scout rules and scuba rules.’”
The scuba troop has been life-changing for these girls and given them a place where they can explore their athletic and environmental passions beyond their wildest dreams. Some even say they want to pursue related careers!
This troop is a true testament to how Girl Scouts unleashes girls’ fullest potential through genuinely girl-led, girl-focused programming in a safe, no-limits place that they can make their own. The troop is also evidence of how the Girl Scout experience conforms to fit girls’ particular interests and needs, no matter how different they might be. Because at Girl Scouts, we don’t tell girls who they are—we help them discover who they want to be.
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