In 1991, Academy360 music teacher, Linda Feldman, looked around and realized that The Children’s Institute as we were known at the time, had very few female students. She described them as little isolated islands in a sea of boys. She immediately felt the need to help these girls bond together and feel a sense of belonging. That was the beginning of Girl Scouts Troop 20947, the first Special Education Girl Scout troop in our service unit, and possibly the state! For the past 27 years, Mrs. Feldman has been helping Academy360’s girls find meaning in coming together as Girl Scouts. She still speaks of the program with the same passion she did when she started the troop. The goals for the troop that she developed when it began are still in effect today: building self-esteem, fostering positive friendships, instilling good values, reinforcing social skills, and promoting independence.
For the past 27 years, Mrs. Feldman has been helping Academy360’s girls find meaning in coming together as Girl Scouts. She still speaks of the program with the same passion she did when she started the troop. The goals for the troop that she developed when it began are still in effect today: building self-esteem, fostering positive friendships, instilling good values, reinforcing social skills, and promoting independence. Girl Scout Troop 20947 has grown over the years as the number of girls who attend Academy360 has increased. While the troop consisted of only 8 girls the year it was started, this year there are 30 young women, from our middle school and high school who are participating. And since there are now a larger number of elementary school-age girls at our school, Ms. Feldman is considering starting a GS Daisy troop as well.
At the time it was initiated, starting a Special Education Girl Scout Troop was an unusual occurrence. The creation of the troop prompted a special visit from the CEO of the Girl Scouts USA in 1995. Our troop was one of only two that she requested to spend time while in New Jersey. In addition to this honor, there have been several others including being the first Special Education troop to win the prestigious Gold Award which represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouts. This award was received for the work the troop did in planning, landscaping and raising money to build the outdoor patio at Academy360 Upper School. The patio remains a popular place on campus for both students and staff.
Our troop regularly engages the larger community by participating in such volunteer activities as collecting supplies for animal shelters and writing letters to individuals serving in the armed forces. They also find time to have lots of fun! Each year they visit a different overnight camp and enjoy outdoor activities and bond with each other. They also have the opportunity to meet and integrate with girls from other troops during these trips and during joint meetings.
According to Mrs. Feldman, the friendships that develop within Troop 20947 are strong. She is proud of the fact that the older troop members are protective of the younger ones and watch out for them. The feeling of normalcy that the girls experience by being part of the troop and participating its activities and ceremonies is especially important to them and their families. Being part of a Girl Scout Troop is something a girl would typically do. She loves to see the girls having fun, succeeding at challenges, and being proud of their accomplishments. But she admits that she gets as much out of it as the girls do!
Jennifer Miller is the Public Information Officer and Parent Liasion at Spectrum360. She can regularly be seen at Spectrum360 programs with camera, pad and pen in hand, recording the amazing things that are happening. A social worker for many years, Ms. Miller morphed her career into non-profit marketing and communications in order to help organizations promote their good works. When not at work, Jennifer enjoys cooking, reading, various artistic endeavors and socializing with friends and family.