By Catherine Amoriello
From its inception, one of the main priorities of Girl Scouts has been inclusivity. Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania (GSHPA) believes that every girl should have the opportunity to learn, grow, and have fun through Girl Scouts.
Unfortunately, many girls face barriers that prevent them from having the opportunity to participate in Girl Scouting. Whether it’s lack of financial resources or not having enough support at home to join, for many there is a wall separating them from all the benefits Girl Scouts has to offer. But through the GSHPA Academic Edge program, these walls can be torn down to ensure every girl has the chance to thrive as a Girl Scout.
“Honestly, this program benefits all girls. We see more growth in girls who are more at risk,” said GSHPA Program Manager Katie Swiglo. “We’re giving them a safe environment to be social and take risks in the hopes this five-week program will give them the support they need throughout their school career to flourish.”
Swiglo oversees Academic Edge, and has been leading the program since April 2020. Established at GSHPA in 2018, Academic Edge blends the Common Core State Standards of education with Girl Scout programming to bring the Girl Scout way to school grounds.
“The inspiration for running Academic Edge comes from not all girls have the opportunity to participate in Girl Scouts,” Swiglo said. “We want to go where the girls are, specifically in schools, to bring Girl Scouts directly to them.”
Swiglo currently runs the program in six schools with about 85 girl participants. GSHPA works with the schools to determine the best time to host the five-week long program, which can operate during the school day or directly after school. Since the program’s introduction, Academic Edge has had many repeat customers in schools that see the value in bringing the program onto their campus.
“Schools want us to continue coming back year after year,” Swiglo said. “The schools see the excitement the girls have for Girl Scouts and how much fun they’re having. They want the girls to learn in a fun way and enjoy learning, because they’re going to need to carry that with them through their lives.”
Academic Edge’s success and worth is in large part credited to the individuals who manage the program. Swiglo, who recently added a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction to her knowledge and expertise in educational programming, cites her own nine years as a Girl Scout as having had an impact on how she runs the program.
“Girl Scouts developed my teaching philosophy. Kids learn when they’re having fun and playing. We’re teaching them just as much as they do in school but we’re doing it in a fun and creative way,” Swiglo said. “What I appreciate in our program team is the background in education. We’re delivering programs with the psychology of learning in mind when developing and delivering programs.”
Academic Edge offers four different programming tracks, similar to the four pillars of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE) – science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM), life skills, outdoors, and leadership skills. Participating schools will see their girls learn about a variety of topics, from robots and coding, to Leave No Trace principles, to digital leadership.
So at what cost does this type of in-depth programming come for both the schools and the girls? The answer is simple: not one dime. Just by participating in Academic Edge girls receive free membership for their first year of Girl Scouts and schools aren’t required to contribute a single cent toward funding the program. This is all thanks to grants secured by GSHPA’s Fund Development Department. Since the program is standards-based and supports classroom education, donors see the worth in putting their dollars toward the initiative.
Academic Edge has proven itself successful, but Swiglo cites a lack of awareness around the benefits of Girl Scouting in the academic community, as well as COVID-related challenges, has made it difficult for GSHPA to get the program into more schools. She believes a better understanding of what the program has to offer would entice more schools to participate.
“Girl Scouts is coming into the school with a different set of resources than the school may have,” Swiglo said. “We’re also coming in with a fresh perspective in our knowledge of what girls want and what girls like. So the difference between what a school can do and what Girl Scouts can do, while we’re hitting some of the same goals, we are inspiring the girls in different ways.”
Through Academic Edge, Swiglo hopes to make it easy for every girl to reap the rewards of Girl Scouting. From kindergarteners learning to make new friends to fifth-graders discovering the power of their voices, the program welcomes all girls to realize their potential through GSLE.
“Every girl deserves the opportunity to participate in a program like Girl Scouts,” Swiglo said. “I want to spread our wonderful programming to as many girls as possible.”
For more information about how you can participate in Academic Edge, please contact GSHPA Program Manager Katie Swiglo at email@example.com or by phone at (717) 884-4220.