Scouts a hit at Ellis

Published 10:05 am Friday, February 6, 2009

A unique group of girls at Ellis Middle School are enjoying time together and learning about their opportunities for the future in a new Girl Scout troop.

Nearly 20 students in grades 6-8 gather twice a month for meetings and activities in Girl Scout Girls With Honor, a special project started last year by the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys council.

This troop is different not only in that Girl Scouts is changing its way of targeting young people, but that it also focuses on under-served populations.

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Mary Goetz, membership specialist with the council, said the purpose is to “go after the population that is under-served — be it rural, girls of color, low income.”

Middle school girls are also part of that under-served demographic, she said. The Ellis group includes girls from Sudanese, Asian and Hispanic backgrounds.

Juliana Pena, a success coach at Ellis, is their adviser.

“I already had a relationship with the girls,” Pena said. “A lot of our Hispanic kids did not participate in extracurricular activities.

“They get to feel like they are important,” she said. “They’re learning about themselves. They get to meet girls from other cultures and diversities.”

Pena said the girls learn about first impressions, friendship, careers, self-esteem and the importance of going to college. Some eighth-graders last year who moved into Austin High School this year have joined a similar troop there.

Transportation has been a major issue for some of the girls; about 30 were interested in joining the group, but about one-third were not able to participate because of lack of transportation, Pena said.

The girls who have participated, however, are regular attendees.

“They’ve been staying; they’ve been carpooling,” Pena said.

Girls With Honor has been active in community service, including helping the Parenting Resource Center, as well as doing arts and crafts, playing games, reading from their Girl Scouts study book and staying at camps. They are planning to attend a lock-in this March in Rochester.

The Red Cross has invited the troop to participate in baby-sitting classes in June and August; 16 scholarships will be provided.

Many are also involved in Spanish Culture Club, Spanish Book Club and a mentoring program with Riverland Community College.

On Tuesday, the troop heard a presentation from the Southeast Minnesota Tobacco Collaborative, who is working on a campaign about tobacco use.

“I wanted the Hispanic girls to take part more in activities,” Pena said. “I want them to know it’s really important to go to college.

“They love it; sometimes we play arts and crafts sometimes we play basketball,” she said.

Sixth-grader and troop member Veronica Bravo said she is excited to sell the Girl Scouts’ trademark cookies.

“Somebody has to come with you so you don’t get lost,” she explained.

Rose Palma, also in sixth grade, said she enjoyed sending letters to soldiers.

Eighth-grader Jessica Torres said the troop is “a good place to hang out with friends.”

Goetz pointed out the Girl Scouts are seeking volunteers from all backgrounds and ages to help with the troop and other troops in the area.

For more information, call Ellis Middle School at 460-1500 or Mary Goetz at 440-4207.