“On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout Law.”

Those words rang throughout Fox Tech High School’s auditorium, recited by more than 350 high school girls during the San Antonio Independent School District’s Gamma Sigma Girls (GSG) investiture ceremony.

Three years ago, many of these young women had never heard the Girl Scout Promise. Most high-school students never consider becoming involved in Girl Scouts, which turned 100 this year. When most people think of Girl Scouts, the “three Cs” come to mind: cookies, camping and crafts. On the morning of Nov. 12, however, an unexpected sentiment was expressed during the ceremony.

“This is bad***!”

Girl Scout Alumna and arts advocate Aaronetta Pierce pins a Gamma Sigma Girl  during the Nov. 12 Investiture Ceremony.
Girl Scout Alumna and arts advocate Aaronetta Pierce pins a Gamma Sigma Girl during the Nov. 12 Investiture Ceremony.

While they do not encourage the use of foul language, it was a welcome description of that morning’s Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas event.

While the “three Cs” are integral parts of the organization’s culture, Girl Scouting has learned to adapt to the modern girl. The organization is attempting to up the “cool factor” of Girl Scouts by giving girls an opportunity to become leaders in their schools.

At a time when Bexar County’s 35% attrition rate surpasses that of the state average and nearly 3,000 births occurred in 2011 to females ages 19 and under, it is vital to provide young women a safe, positive and encouraging atmosphere in which to develop.

Unlike other extracurricular activities, GSG does not require members to have a special talent, skill or minimum GPA. You just have to be a girl. That’s it.

Students from Sam Houston High School turned out wearing matching black cardigans and pearls. Another group wore black high heels and khaki pants with their issued t-shirts. As each girl crossed the stage to be pinned, she was welcomed into a sisterhood that produced national leaders like Hillary Clinton and Sandra Day O’Conn0r, and prominent local alumnae, including former San Antonio Mayor Lila Cockrell and City Manager Sheryl Sculley.

The program is unique to Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas, combining proven outcomes of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience with a sorority-type setting for girls in grades 9-12. It first launched in 2010 in San Antonio ISD, and has since expanded to Edgewood and Harlandale ISDs, serving nearly 700 girls in all three districts. This number is projected to increase by 25 percent in 2013.

When GSG was first introduced at Thomas Jefferson High School her senior year, Irene Sauceda joined because she’d had little opportunity to build strong connections with classmates in the past. She attended seven different elementary schools and never spent more than one year at the same school.

Not only did Irene become a founding member of her school’s GSG chapter, she was elected president.

“I met girls from my school that enjoyed helping others, just as I did,” said Irene, now a sophomore at Texas State University. “What I accomplished was being noticed as a leader. I feel that without Gamma Sigma Girls , people wouldn’t look at me and say, ‘There goes a strong girl.’”

Gamma Sigma Pearls, the “younger sister” chapter of GSG, was introduced in Harlandale ISD and Edgewood ISD middle school campuses last year, expanding to San Antonio ISD this year. As members of both programs, girls choose to concentrate on one of three areas: advocacy, taking action and being college bound. This focus directly aligns with district and city-wide initiatives to reduce school dropout rates and college accessibility to all students.

“Personally, being in Gamma Sigma Girls  allowed me to crawl out of the shell I lived in. It helped me realize that I am strong and can do anything as long as I set my mind to it,” Irene said. “The transition to college is no doubt tough because it’s a different experience. Any freshman will be a little scared, as well as excited. Because I was in Gamma Sigma Girls , I felt like I took freshman year by the horns. I felt more confident as a student.”

Gamma Sigma Girls from San Antonio Independent School District taking a water break during a Take Action project benefitting Habitat for Humanity.
Gamma Sigma Girls from San Antonio Independent School District taking a water break during a Take Action project benefitting Habitat for Humanity.

The individual impact of these programs are not restricted to the girls who become members. Adult advisors are school employees who volunteer to assist girls with the program.

“I thought (the program) was a wonderful way to empower girls,” said Erika Wyckoff, a social worker at Edison High School and new Gamma Sigma Girls  advisor. “My passion is working with students and focusing on their strengths, so I am truly looking forward to this new journey with the girls.”

Advisors are trained like any other Girl Scout volunteer. There are many adult learning opportunities available, making the volunteer experience just as beneficial to the adult as to the girl.

“I remember being a Girl Scout as a child and I have fond memories of camping, singing and growing together as a troop,” Erika said. “I hope these girls will develop a strong bond and become future leaders and advocates for the causes they believe in. I want to help them blossom and grow.”

For the past 100 years, Girl Scouts of the USA has strived to make a difference in the lives of girls across the nation and beyond. Girl Scouts introduces girls of every age to activities that are relevant to everyday life. Those cookie sales, outdoor camps and craft activities serve a purpose: to develop leadership skills that help every girl make the world a better place. By leveraging innovative partnerships with prominent alumnae, leading businesses and area school districts, Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas is reaching more girls from diverse backgrounds than ever before.

Girls are moving forward, and it is Girl Scouting’s aim to move with them. This is not your mother’s Girl Scouts.

Theodora Setterbo is the Communications Specialist for Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas, which supports more than 23,500 girl members and 7,000 adult volunteers in a 21-county jurisdiction. In her spare time, she promotes local music with SATXmusic.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org