Friday, December 6, 2013

How Getting My Gold Award Changed My Life

Hi, my name is Mandy Jústiz.  I am 17 years old and have been a Girl Scout for 10 years.  As a Girl Scout, I have always loved community service, whether it be wrapping gifts for Blue Santa or collecting blankets for an animal shelter.  It was not until about half way through my Girl Scout career that I learned about the Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards, but once I did, I knew I had to complete them. 

The summer before my sophomore year, I learned about National Young Women of Distinction, an award which is annually given to ten Girl Scouts who showed exemplary leadership, innovation, and problem solving skills in their Gold Award.  I applied for the award and, a few months later, learned that I would be one of the 2013 recipients.  Soon after, I was informed that I was also one of five National Young Women of Distinction chosen to represent Girl Scouts at a brunch with Congress in Washington DC where female Congress members were inducted into Troupe Capitol Hill. My trip to DC was incredible and the brunch was beyond words!  I had the opportunity to talk with several members of Congress as well as Anna Maria Chávez, the CEO of Girl Scouts.  A month later, I flew to Phoenix, Arizona to receive my award. There, I was interviewed by Justine Magazine and Girl Scouts of the USA.  I also participated in a panel for Girl Scouts who were interested in completing their Gold Awards.
 The award ceremony was amazing.  The room, filled with Girl Scout CEOs and COOs from councils across the country, was charged with an amazingly high energy.  I was terribly nervous to give my thank you speech; I had never made a speech before, although this one became my first of many.  At the ceremony award winners recieved a $4,500 scholarship from Kappa Delta and were given our National Young Women of Distinction and life time membership pins.  

 I started thinking about my Gold Award the summer before freshman year. I have always been very interested in marine biology and knew I wanted to incorporate my hobby into my Gold Award.  After bouncing several ideas off of my father, I decided that I should build a fish tank for an elementary school.  I figured that it would be an effective, fun way to introduce children to the aquatic world.  I contacted the University of Texas Elementary School and got approval to build a tank in their main office.  However, after some thinking, I decided that I was not content with just building an aquarium.  I again started talking with my dad and finally decided that, in addition to the aquarium, I would create a 3-day module, which could be incorporated into an elementary school curriculum, which I could use to teach children about aquatic ecology and conservation. 

The elementary school put me in contact with a 5th grade science teacher, who welcomed my idea and offered her help should I need it. With my plan completed, I started to design and build the aquarium. For the next several months, the 60 gallon aquarium was my baby. I checked on it often, ran tests on the water, and added various chemicals and bacteria at least once a week. I couldn't wait for the water to be stable enough to add fish.  When it was finally ready, we went to the pet store and picked out the fish.  The fish I chose were cherry barbs, Mickey Mouse platies, black mollies, otocinclus, powder blue gourami, and ghost shrimp. The array of fish allowed me to teach children about how different lifestyles and habitats affect the fish and its adaptations.  Once the fish were added to the aquarium, I started creating the module.  I played around with the organization of the material, did a lot of research, and tried desperately to find ways of teaching that would not bore the children. I decided the best way of doing so would be to keep a healthy balance between anatomical, physiological, conservation, and environmental information mixed with fun facts and pictures.  I continued to update the module whenever I learned something new, but I always tried to maintain the balance.  My first time teaching the 5th graders was a life changing moment.  Experiencing the student’s energy and excitement, and hearing their insightful questions made me realize my love for teaching. 

  When I was a Brownie, I never imagined the impact that Girl Scouts would have on my life.  It has led me to discover myself, my passions, and my dreams.  Because of this wonderful organization, I have become the confident leader I am today. 

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