Eleven-year-old Carolina Mendez can handle a blue-tongued skink and a ball python like any seasoned Girl Scout. Or Boy Scout for that matter.
She can tie a mean square knot, too.
At Oxnard State Beach Park recently, Carolina got to show off these scouting skills.
But Carolina is not a traditional Girl Scout who participates in evening and weekend activities. As a day Scout, she participates one afternoon each week with other fifth-graders as part of a special outreach program at Mar Vista Elementary School in Port Hueneme.
Her school was one of three in the county involved in a day Scouting event Friday. Boy Scouts of America also sponsored the beach trip. In all, 160 girls and boys from Mar Vista, Rio Real and Laguna Vista elementary schools took part.
The day events program, which began 19 years ago, gives a variety of students the opportunity to be Scouts, said Twila Guzman, an outreach assistant for the Tres Condados Girls Scout Council, which covers Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
Often, the day activities take place inside the classroom. On Friday, the fifth-graders celebrated their final Scouting day. The program is offered to elementary school students only until fifth grade.
"We go into areas where children may not have the financial ability to join a traditional troop," Guzman said. "Being a Scout requires an enormous amount of parent volunteer time. Many of these kids have two working parents who can't take children to after-school activities."
Miguel Casillas, a fifth-grade teacher at Mar Vista, hailed the program for reaching out to Latino children.
"A very large percentage of our parents are field workers," Casillas said. "They work long hours for low pay. It's hard work stooping over fields all day, and they have no energy for Scouting. They're also living below the poverty level and have no money."
Casillas said the program is more than fun and games for his students.
"Even the Boy Scout motto is to always do your best," he said. "It instills in them good values."
Although the activities are limited, day Scouts can earn patches and badges for completing projects and acquiring skills. They are not required to wear uniforms.
During the Oxnard beach trip, students built a bridge by tying knots in thick rope. The bridge was strong enough to support a long procession of day Scouts who scampered over it.
Besides two snakes--a 4-foot ball python named Mrs. Pretzel and a 3-foot boa constrictor named Bradley--and a skink, or lizard, called Gilbert, other animals and insects were available to study and pet, said a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of Ventura County.
The animals were the highlight of the day for Juliana Lopez, 11, a Mar Vista fifth-grader. She said she wished day Scout activities would be offered in sixth grade.
Juliana would like to join the Girl Scouts, but her parents are concerned about the expenses, she said.
"Sometimes you have to buy things like uniforms, and sometimes there's no money," she said.
Juliana said she enjoyed her years as a day Scout and saw it as a benefit to young children in general.
"It prevents us from getting into trouble," she said. "It makes us stay away from bad things, like gangs and drugs."