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Girl Spotlight: Gold Award Girl Scout Jemma N.

“My Girl Scout Gold Awards project really helped me find my voice.” Inspiring words from 18-year-old Jemma N. of Summerland Key, Florida when we recently sat down with her to ask about her project, “The Joy of Reading Summer Program”. The program, which was launched amidst a global pandemic was created last summer in partnership with the Sugarloaf School library with one singular goal: Encourage young children between the ages of 5-7 to find their love for reading.

Jemma showcased her love for books and her ability to adapt in challenging situations while trying to launch a reading program amidst a pandemic. She quickly pivoted to take her once in-person program and to a virtual experience. Using Google Classrooms, Jemma created a digital environment where students got an opportunity to have fun while advancing their readings skills prior to the start of the new academic year. The project included pre-recorded videos for instructional activities and read-a-longs to complement the original in-person program in the future.

Throughout her Gold Award experience, the 18-year-old Girl Scout Ambassador learned time management, confidence, and perseverance. These skills will continue to help Jemma as she begins classes today (June 21) at FGCU with the intention of becoming a traveling nurse following graduation. We look forward to following Jemma’s journey as she continues to positively impact the lives of others as she did while a member of the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida.

Describe Your Project

My Girl Scout Gold Award project aims to promote reading/writing skills within younger generations to help further their path in their education and to inspire them to look at reading as more than just a requirement. Many children due to technology and lack of free time are becoming less inclined to read, or even identify books they enjoy. Reading books is a major skill that can allow children to benefit in their lifestyles. There is even a correlation between empathy, health, and activeness/engagement in learning with reading freely for one’s self.

My goal for this project was to teach kids to really enjoy reading. This does not mean reading because you are forced to, but because you actively want to and find joy in it. That is why I created a Summer Reading Program for kids in Kindergarten through Second Grade that promotes these ideas within the younger generation.

I created both an online/in person interactive program that spans for six weeks per year. Each day of the project is based on one book out of the eighteen I selected/prepared, which includes interactive activities, crafts, and typically some form of writing assignment. The kids also have a choice to work on a mural that allows the creation of connections about the book, giving them the choice to draw what they learned/what the story was about. After all the children are done with these group activities, they are able to individually pick and check out a book that interests them. This provides the freedom for them to choose what they enjoy which will intern strengthen the skill of reading within them.

Volunteers known as “Reading buddies” help during this time (especially the younger children) by reading with them and assisting if help is needed. Volunteers are heavily sourced through the National Junior Honor Society that is led by Mrs. Nelson. This also benefits them as they continue to work toward their community service hours.

Unfortunately, months before my project was set to launch, COVID-19 made headlines. As a result, I had to reinvent my project a bit. I created a “virtual classroom” that allowed kids to be able to interact and enjoy most facets of the program from the safety of their homes. I created alternative virtual programming and activities for all 18 book activities so they can be enjoyed at home, if necessary. I turned six of these books into video read-alongs, as well as video instructions for the crafts and activities.

While these workarounds were a solution during a pandemic, I am looking forward to having this project return to campus, where it will be held in the library in the years to come.

How is your project sustainable? Tell us how it will continue on once complete.

At Sugarloaf Elementary and Middle School, librarian Mrs. Means has agreed to continue to run the program. I have created a series of 18 reading activity templates that Mrs. Means can reuse throughout the first three years of academia and beyond (Kindergarten through Second grade). We also have plans to partner with Sugarloaf Middle School’s National Junior Honor Society.

The result is a win-win. Seventh and eighth grade members of the club will be able to get their much-needed volunteer hours by helping with the program over the summer and we have the volunteers needed to support the program. With their combined help, the library will continue to run The Joy of Reading Summer Program for years to come.

What gave you the inspiration to approach this topic the way that you did?

I knew from the start I was going to do something that tied with reading, but I was a bit unsure of exactly what. Sugarloaf School played a major factor in why I approached this project the way I did. The library was a major part of my childhood; it was the place where I grew my own independent book choices and found myself always helping peers find the books they wanted.

What concerns me is that I find that many children are losing that kind of experience in their lives. School workloads are on the rise, causing children to have a hard time finding the time to read what they enjoy. Also, screen time in young children is increasing, which is also causing kids to not want to read as much. I always felt that this kind of behavior towards reading in our younger generations is quite disappointing. That is why I decided to make a Summer Reading Program to help inspire kids to read. Summertime is the time where reading books is at its all-time low in children, and I hope to rekindle something in these kids to enjoy it, and not find it to be a task.

Why is this project important to you, personally?

Throughout my childhood and in my teenage years, reading has always been a passion of mine that has benefited me throughout my schooling. I feel like I owe much of my success due to my love of reading, and it pains me to see that many people do not have this kind of relationship. This project is important to me because I want to give this community’s next generation that same passion and to find value within the covers of a book.

Reading was honestly my safe space, something I think many children need that, especially with Covid-19 and stress in households at the moment. I hope to give children the opportunity to love and enjoy learning, growing, and finding comfort through books, just as I did in my elementary years.

What was the biggest challenge you overcame and how?

When Covid-19 hit, I wasn’t able to run my program at the school like I originally intended. It meant that I couldn't do many of the interactive group activities with the kids that I wanted to do. It affected my entire project since my original plan was going to be heavily dependent on group activities as well as going to be done at the school. I also intended to do a lot of advertising through the school and possibly give a talk as an assembly for the school.

Because of the impacts of the pandemic, I had issues finding ideas that would make the program fun for kids, since I wanted to make the activities original as possible. I also had the issue that because of Covid I was unable to ask for book donations in person or through the school. Instead, I decided to propose to the librarian, Mrs. Means, if I could do this year's project on the Google Classroom, making videos for both activity instructions as well as read along videos for each of this year's six books (each year has six different stories).

I personally read the six books for this year and recorded them as videos that can either be reused or looked at as a template for future years (If they wish to repeat any of those books). I also created activities so that the program is able to be done online or in person if necessary, in the future. I also created an Amazon Wishlist so that people could donate the specific books to me.

Communication played a major factor in the success of this project throughout COVID-19. By keeping NJHS leader, Mrs. Nelson and Mrs. Means updated, it ensured their involvement in the project.

How does this project contribute to your goals for the future?

My plan for the future at this moment is to go to university and study to become a traveling nurse, and I am happy to say that this project really helped to contribute to this goal. I feel like I learned how to find the confidence within myself to do more.

I feel like I always had a hard time speaking up and taking leadership in some situations, but my Girl Scout Gold Award project really helped me find my voice. It also has made me bolder.

I find that I am more open to bolder ideas and making them come to life not only in my education but in my social life as well. This is something I’ve struggled with and I find myself participating more in my classes and really finding who I am. These skills, as well as the time management skills will help me achieve when I am living on my own at college.

What did you learn about your community in this process?

The biggest thing I learned from my community is that a lot of people are open to helping with people’s ideas. This project was really a dream and it was so refreshing to find many people wanting to contribute to the project. Many of my past teachers wanted to help out and I will forever be grateful for their contributions. I genuinely was not sure how people were going to react, but seeing such overwhelming positive reactions helped motivate me continue my project during the coronavirus.

What did you learn about YOURSELF?

I realized that even in a crisis like Covid-19, where many would probably give up on doing their projects, I persevered through and came up with a solution that allowed me to continue doing this project for this year as well as ensuring the continuance of my project by making it so that you could do it online another year if this continues. I learned that I have the strength to not give up, which is something I am proud of. I am still very passionate about my project and hope that I helped children find a safe space through Covid-19.

Girl Scouts has made me a leader with the confidence to take action in our world’s concerns.