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Van Straten joins inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts

By Heather Graves

DE PERE – De Pere native Ava Van Straten is making history as she becomes the first female Eagle Scout in the Voyageur District of the Bay-Lakes Council.

The 17-year-old Notre Dame Academy senior joins a handful of girls being awarded the highest rank in Scouts BSA, just a year after the organization allowed girls to join.

“Being an Eagle Scout represents hard work, goal setting and accomplishing many tasks,” Van Straten said. “Everyone that has earned the Eagle Award knows how much hard work and dedication it takes. It is intended for someone who wants to learn leadership and build their toolkit for life.”

Van Straten said she is no stranger to hard work to achieve her goals.

Before embarking on her Eagle Scout journey, she worked her way through the ranks of Girl Scouts of the USA – earning the Bronze Award in 2014, the Silver Award in 2017 and the Gold Award last spring.

“Both the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts are amazing programs that offer different and valuable life skills,” she said. “I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to experience both.”

Growing up, Van Straten watched her two older brothers participate in Boy Scouts, and when the decision was made in February 2019 to allow girls to be a part of the organization she signed up immediately.

“After seeing my brothers become Eagles, I knew they could be lost in the wilderness and would have the skills to survive,” she said. “I wanted that also. Growing up with that influence further solidified my decision to join.”

Earning Eagle Scout was Van Straten’s end goal the moment she joined Scouts BSA.

“I feel like I started working towards Eagle from the very beginning,” she said. “Scouts BSA is a program that builds upon each rank. You do not earn Eagle; you become an Eagle. Each rank has a lot of requirements.”

Over the next year and a half, Van Straten went to work checking off requirements.

“I had a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time,” she said.

She began the final step of that journey this past April.

By June she decided on her final Eagle Scout project and submitted it for approval.

“When looking at possible ideas for Eagle Scout projects, I knew I wanted to do something big and something that would make a difference, but also have it align with my interests of promoting character, social and emotional skills to youth,” she said.

Those interests led her to write a children’s book, “Parker’s Path,” focused on social and emotional issues for her Eagle Scout project.

“Parker’s Path” depicts the journey of a boy who learns the true meaning of empathy as he helps a classmate.

The book, along with the accompanying STEAM-based curriculum, is targeted to elementary school students.

“I hit the ground running with fundraising, researching and writing,” she said. “Because of COVID-19 and for homeschooling families, I created an online version for virtual learning. It can be found on Facebook @parkerspathbook, along with the curriculum, examples of the projects and other tools that can be used.”

Through a grant from The Pollination Project, 4,000 copies of “Parker’s Path” will be distributed for free to schools, libraries and other organizations throughout the state.

“By writing a book with a timeless theme and message and working with educators to create a curriculum to promote empathy among youth, we could get this important message out,” she said.

This isn’t Van Straten’s first stab at writing.

Her first book, “Mary’s Heart,” completed earlier this year, tackles kindness and bullying.

It also includes an educational-based curriculum.

Van Straten said she is already working on her third book, which will focus on destigmatizing mental health for youth.

Van Straten is an International Baccalaureate diploma candidate at Notre Dame, a graduate of Green Bay Teen Leadership Class of 2019, a National Honor Society leader and president of Notre Dame’s chess club.

Looking toward her future, Van Straten said she wants to go to a college with a strong program with research opportunities.

“I have a passion for learning what I call the Common More – life skills like character, leadership, kindness, empathy and inclusion,” she said. “My dream is to spread that and build a publishing company to promote character and social and emotional learning content while advocating for its instructional time in America’s curriculum.”

To other girls thinking of joining Scouts BSA and pursuing the rank of Eagle Scout, Van Straten’s advice is simple – “Go for it.”

“There will be some who are having a hard time with Scouts BSA’s decision and will even tell you girls do not belong in Scouts BSA, but do not let them discourage you,” she said. “Everyone deserves the right to have this experience, and Scouts BSA will make you a better, stronger leader for today, tomorrow and the rest of your life.”

Van Straten will be named in the national inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts in February 2021.

“To my fellow inaugural female Eagles, congratulations and thank you for joining me in smashing the ceiling,” she said.

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