MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — Katie Zimmerman, 17, from Mountainside, created a reading program for fifth-grade students at George Washington School in Hillside as her Girl Scout Gold Award Project. A member of Mountainside Ambassador Troop 40851, she is currently in her junior year at Governor Livingston High School.
“When I was on vacation in Maine, I saw Little Free Library boxes all around,” Katie told LocalSource in an email on June 22. “Little Free Library is an honor system library that consists of boxes spread out throughout a certain area. People can simply borrow a book from one box, then return it and borrow another one when they are done. I thought this was a great idea and wanted to help children who have limited access to books.”
She began collecting donated books to create her very own “Book Bandy,” so students could select a book and not have to return it until they were finished reading it without being restricted to a due date. She chose to call it a bandy, which means “to pass about casually, give and receive.”
“I collected over 1,100 books by asking the public for donations through posts on Facebook, newspaper articles, direct requests to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in Mountainside, and a collections bin at the Mountainside Public Library,” she said.
Each book comes with a sticker that includes a five-star rating scale to stir discussion. Students are encouraged to try different genres and the program is aimed at challenging students to become better readers. The program also included monthly meetings and a newsletter created by Zimmerman.
“The books are reviewed verbally at monthly meetings and then written in the monthly newsletters,”she said. “One student sharing their opinion on a book led to other students also sharing what they did or did not like about that certain book and why. The students are able to determine which books are challenging enough for them on their own. All of the students are given their reading level from their teachers. I made sure to provide a range of books that were at and above the expected reading level of most fifth-graders.”
“The monthly newsletters consisted of the students’ book reviews and the components of the genre we discussed at the previous meetings. They also included books, at the children’s request, that are becoming movies and new books that are being released that I believe might interest them. I am not continuing this aspect of my project, but sent the template for the newsletters to the school librarian so someone there can continue it.”
The ongoing book program will continue for fifth-graders at the school. The end of the year evaluations of the children and staff confirmed the project was a success.
“At the moment, I am finishing up the final paperwork for my project and preparing for my final presentation of my project to the Girl Scout Gold Award Council,” Zimmerman said. “First, I had to fill out the initial paperwork and pitch my idea to the Girl Scout Gold Award Council. They gave me suggestions about how to improve my project and make it acceptable as a Gold Award Project.
After I tweaked my project, I spoke to a member of the council and emailed them for approval. I had to make requests and changes as I spoke with the Hillside Board of Education, my project team, and the kids who guided me as I created the project. I wanted to meet their needs. Since then, I have mainly been working on my project independently. Soon I will go in front of the council again to get final approval on my project and receive my Gold Award.”
“The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest achievement a Girl Scout can earn. It requires extraordinary leadership through which the recipient uses to make a positive, sustainable impact on their communities and beyond. The Gold Award must be completed individually and requires a minimum of 80 hours. To me, this award is an extreme honor. It demonstrates my commitment and service to the community. It means that I have been able to stay active in Scouts for 12 years, which is something that I am very proud of myself for doing. My community and the Girl Scouts have given me so much, and this was an opportunity for me to give something in return. I am overjoyed that I was able to positively impact so many young people.”