Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Girl Scout Gab

Girl Scout Gab is an active FACEBOOK leader page that encompasses all things Girl Scout.  You can learn so much about protocols, activities, ideas and virtually anything about Girl Scouting on this page! It is a wonderful resource.  It is also a good place to voice your opinions.  It is my hope that GS-USA reads this page and listens.  Often times leaders voice concerns about occasional issues in Girl Scouting. You can offer support to other leaders all over the country tackling tough situations and offer solutions to common problems.  You can identify similarities and differences amongst the various service units and councils.  My biggest complaint about Girl Scouting is that while we enjoy the freedoms of running our councils, units and troops our own way, there is very little consistency.  And even more willingness to share ideas.  I think state councils would benefit hugely from annual meetings to discuss what works in their area and what doesn't.  For instance most councils have an early pick-up cookie day(s) where girls can get their cookies prior to their initial order.  The San Jacinto Texas Council has a DRIVE-UP cookie pick up day.  This is BRILLIANT!  Girls can come to a location and the 12 cases of cookies are loaded right into their car.  Sure beats our system where we wait in long lines with dollies to transport our cookies back to our cars a 1000 ft away.  What if the council developed an app to check out cookies?  Now this would be cool!  We would save lots of trees by removing the current triplicate paper system.  I am filled with ideas, but actually implementing them is the real challenge.  However, I think with a little ingenuity we could really streamline the cookie business.

GSG is a Closed Group where ADULT Girl Scout Leaders can trade ideas, swap stories, and vent if necessary.

If you are a SCOUT and want to join a group you can swap stories with other scouts, please join Girl Scout Gab - for Girls:

Please live by the Girl Scout Law when making comments and posts...

If for some reason you are not directed properly , simply search Girl Scout Gab in the search box.
Furthermore the administrators make this caution:

I love how we all share our opinions -- and yes they are opinions. We should all respect each other, watch our language, speak appropriately, and respect others (including other volunteers). We are all Girl Scouts and should uphold the GS Law and treat others how we would like to be treated. When you get together a group of women (and this group has over 2000) we are never all going to agree or understand how each council works. Isn't that what makes this group unique? We can share ideas, what works/what doesn't work, and discuss it in a polite way without name calling.

As I tell my troop members...in life we may not get along with everyone, we may not want to hear their opinion but we should ALWAYS treat each other with respect and speak appropriately.

It is very easy to become emotionally fueled by some of the posts & responses.  I would like to think this is only the case because we have a  passion about Girl Scouting and we only want the very best for the girls and the organization!

Recently a leader posted a photo of a hand-made shadow box she made for one of her "retiring" ambassadors.  It is so beautiful and a true gift!  The inspirational words are sure to remind this girl scout of her scouting days.  The hand-made nature of the gift makes it even more special.  All too often these days, we run out to "buy" gifts when the best ones still come from the heart!  There is no doubt her leader's kindness, enthusiasm and dedication will encourage this girl to one day become a leader too. And so the circle continues...

Special Credit given to Mary Small Vertanen the author of the beautiful poem above.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Member Retention

As my girls get older retention is a constant battle.  I work really hard to retain the girls I have in my troop and I am always open to new members, even at the Cadette Level.  I make it well known with signs and publishing information in our PTO electronic newsletter, that a girl is never too old to join!
Also I stress that the time commitment is minimal with only 4 hours a month and 2 meetings every other week that almost any busy girl can squeeze it into their schedule.

Retention begins with the following:
  • fun meetings
  • great field trips
  • a variety of activities
  • encouraging strong friendships
  • girl's sense of ownership over their troop
  • parental involvement
  • leniency on details
I strive to create a really fun calendar for the year filled with a variety of unique activities and field trips. The girls will easily want to rejoin if they are having fun while learning!  It's really that simple.  I always tell my girls if they are not crazy about this month's badge, stick around you'll probably love the next one.  Having a large group of diverse girls, it is impossible to please every girl, every meeting. However, the different topics from meeting to meeting will ensure all the girls are happy.  A great end-of-the-year bash also helps to retain girls.  You never want to end on a "sour" note like a service project that involves the girls spending countless hours sitting or educating.  This can ruin even the best of Girl Scouting years.  Girls tend to remember the most recent activity the best and base the entire year on this event.  

Designing activities and field trips that are creative and unique really helps to draw in all types of girls and certainly helps with retention.  The Girl Scouts offer some fun ideas to earn badges, but I am always striving for the "Wow" factor and thinking outside the box helps.  For example, after learning the basics of first aid at the Brownie and Junior level, I wanted to do something different for the girls at the Cadette level. We decided to visit Carter Blood Center where the girls watched me donate blood and learned a lot of great blood facts from the staff.  Then we hosted a Blood Drive at their school.  We arranged to have a donation bus at the school for a set number of hours, created a sign-up form for parents to donate and the girls participated by manning a booth during the blood drive.  They offered GS Cookies and juice after the donors completed their blood donation.  Also the girls asked each donor to write down why they wanted to donate.  We had some fabulous responses and the girls learned, hands-on, that donating is fairly simple, painless and a true act of generosity that costs virtually nothing, but can make a big impact on their community.

Recently a mom commented to me that her daughter quit Girl Scouts because the girls in her troop were petty and mean.  This broke my heart.  It is the leader's job to foster good relationships and prevent little cliques and arguments within the troop.  This is not to say the girls will not have disagreements, but it is how you deal with arguments and internal drama that makes a big difference.  I don't hesitate to bring parents into a situation when I feel 2 girls are not getting along.  9 out of 10 times this nips the behavior in the bud.  Most parents don't realize their girls are being mean or disruptive.  Other times, we talk through the disagreement and find out why the girls are really arguing, it is rarely over the event or task at hand, but something far more trivial.  Also I try and prevent disagreements by constantly grouping different sets of girl together.  I rarely let them choose a girl they want to work with because they will tend to choose the same groups over and over, inevitably leaving out a girl or two.  And many times girls will argue over one girl... "I want to be with Jessica!"  "No I do!"  Encouraging strong, life-long friendships is important.  Often I tell my girls to embrace their differences, it is what makes them each unique.  

Most importantly the girls should feel like they "own" their troop.  Encouraging them to make decisions within the troop helps them feel like an active member and participant.  So I work hard to give them as many decisions as I can.  Often times these decisions come in the form of choices because I need to have some control over the variables,  "Would you like to have a backyard camp-out, go to Steven's Ranch or a state park to camp this year?"  But on rare occasions, I give them complete and total control, "What type of breakfast would you like to have at the camp out?"  Majority always wins in our troop and some times this too can create disappointment and arguing.  I am quick to point out, the girls will not always get their way and while it might not feel fair right now, it is always equal.  They will be on the side of the majority the next go-around.  I also want the girls to know that their opinions are important to me, after all this is their troop.  Each year I hand out an anonymous survey asking unique questions appropriate to their age level.  You can view and print my Cadette Survey from this year here:  CLICK HERE
I ask them about my leadership style, what they like and don't like.  I am always striving to be the best leader and I can't possibly be the best unless they tell me what I can do to make them happy.  I ask them for ideas, activities and field trips they would like to do.  I ask them what things can be done to keep them in Girl Scouts.  What are the barriers that might prevent them from re-registering.  Sometimes there is simply nothing a leader can do to retain a girl, another activity or sport takes priority in their life. I have to chuckle at some of their responses, one girl when asked "What I can do to make Girl Scouts cooler?" She responded, "Serve ice cubes with snack!"  I may just do that next year to get a laugh!

Parents are not always actively involved in scouting and each girl's situation is unique.  Some parents might work, others may volunteer a lot or they simply don't have an interest.  I strongly encourage my parents to get involved from supplying snacks for our meetings to attending field trips.  I think it is important that the parents see first-hand the benefits of scouting.  Also I send out an annual registration e-mail to my parents reminding them how beneficial scouting can be on high school transcripts and college resumes.  I remind parents that even companies hiring today value a girl who participated in Girl Scouts through high school.  Gold Star recipients advance one rank in the military when they enlist, which includes an increase in their pay.  And most importantly the time commitment is minimal and I will work with them to squeeze it into their child's schedule.  

Furthermore, I have found my older girls, Cadettes, do not like to wear their vests.  Initially I was pretty strict about the girls not only wearing their vest, but having all the girls look congruent.  I think this was my military experience coming out in me.  I felt they should have pride in their service and wearing their vest was a way to represent the Girl Scouts.  However, as time has moved along I have learned to relax.  I only make the girls wear their vests at true council wide Girl Scout events or selling cookies. Truth be told, I hated wearing my uniform in the military too.  It was not until I left the military I realized what a true honor it was to wear the US military uniform.  I decided it was not a battle worth waging.  If the girls are truly embarrassed or are harassed by their friends due to peer pressure, I don't want the fact they are forced to wear their vests to be a reason they choose not to continue.  

Have you experienced difficulties in member retention?  Have you found a way to encourage re-registration?  Do you know how to capture new members?  Please share your experiences with us all. Through knowledge and suggestions, together we make scouting stronger.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Brownie: First Aid Badge

Brownie 1st Aid Badge

As a nurse, I am eager to introduce my Girl Scouts to First Aid.  However, I always seem to think I can cram 8 hours of information into an hour and half meeting.  Even though I make a strong effort to present the information in clear and concise terms that is age appropriate, it never fails we linger on a topic and I never finish teaching all the points I would like to make.  But I have learned from my over-zealous nature to include nice hand-outs so the girls can read and refer to the information at home.  

I used a Boy Scout Power Point presentation for reference on the material I wanted to present.  I figure why re-invent the wheel.  This Cub Master from San Antonio, TX spent a lot of time identifying some key first aid points and collected some great visuals.  Here is the link for his Power Point file:  CLICK HERE

Next I created small booklets (Cheat Sheets) for the girls using 4x6 index cards, cut in half.  I simply adjusted my margins to 4x6in. in pages (or word) and printed the material, using front and back. It's helpful if you place a light grey line in the center so you know where to cut the  cards.

Then I lined all the index cards on contact paper and sealed another piece of contact paper to the backside to make the cards somewhat water-proof and durable. (FYI: This was a bit time consuming)
I punched holes in each card and held them together using a pop open key ring called a binder ring.  The girls assembled the cards together in a booklet fashion at the meeting.

We began our discussion by defining what First Aid is and how to respond, Cool, Calm and Collected. These types of discussions are always fueled by stories and with 26 girls it is sometimes difficult to get past my opening topic.  Next we discussed choking and I created a large foam board diagram to depict the purpose of the epiglottis.  The girls each got several m&m's to slide down the esophagus and watch the epiglottis close protecting the airway.  I think this visual really helped them to picture why we don't typically choke on food.  The girls used their fingers to hold onto the m&m and simply moved it along the "track" of the esophagus and I stood to the side and lifted the epiglottis flap to show how the epiglottis protects the airway. I used a neon piece of paper to cut an "oval" to represent the epiglottis and then adhered the oval epiglottis using a brass fastener so I could move the flap up and down. 

I described the Heimlich Maneuver and the girls were asked to pinpoint the location just above the belly button to place their fist.  We mimicked the "In and UP" action to dislodge a foreign object and "reproduce" a cough in a victim.  Then we identified the location of a friend standing behind them and creating a fist with your dominant hand and wrapping your other hand around the fist.  I was very strict that the girls could not "practice" on their friends because mimicking the "In & Up" motion can hurt.  We discussed how to dislodge an item if you were home alone or with a friend.  I did not cover a baby choking because I felt this might be too difficult of a concept for the girls at their age.  

In a short discussion about shock and blood loss we talked about finding a pulse.  The girls were asked to locate a pulse in their neck and near the wrist.  To do this in the wrist, we had the girls place their LEFT palm up and stick their thumb up.  Then take their index and middle fingers on the right hand and slide their fingers down the thumb to rest on their pulse just below their wrist bone.  For some girls this was easy for them and for others we had to locate their pulse for them.  It is important when doing this exercise that you stress that the girls palpate for the pulse gently, if you push down too hard with your fingers, you will cut off the vein and the pulse.  Once the pulse was identified at their wrist every girl was given a small heart tattoo using a Sharpie marker to mark their pulse location.  I explained to the girls that every time they feel their pulse this is their heart contracting and pushing blood throughout their body.  A weak pulse means a person may be dehydrated and have less blood volume in their body or could mean they have experienced blood loss.  Finally the girls were asked to count their pulse for 30 seconds, we multiplied this number times 2 to get their heart rate for a minute.  Then we did jumping jacks for a minute and took our pulse again.  The girls were amazed how the heart quickens to rush blood to your body parts when you work out.  I also explained how your pulse quickens when you are in a "Fight or Flight" situation like when administering First Aid.  When you are scared your body's natural reaction is to increase your heart rate.

Finally I purchased 8 yards of fabric and cut the fabric into long 12 x 45in strips to create Cravat Slings. I explained to the girls if you ever think someone's hand, arm or wrist is broken, the best first aid response is to immobilize the limb.  So we created Cravat Slings on one another.  This was a simple exercise, but the girls loved walking out to their parent's car with the slings.

I would have loved to talk about insect bites, burns etc, but time got away from us.  This can be covered in future badges and would make a great camp out activity.

If you are interested in using my personal meeting notes or "1st Aid Cheat Sheets" already set to 4x6 margins in pdf format please CLICK HERE.