Shenango program enables local Girl Scouts to earn badges

SHARON, PA. — On Sat., Nov. 5, Penn State Shenango held its inaugural GirlScouts@PSU program. Close to one hundred area Girl Scout Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, and Ambassadors arrived at Penn State, eager to earn a patch. The program was hosted by the campus Occupational Therapy (OT) Club and the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Club. Penn State Environmental Health and Safety Coordinator Brandi Baros, along with members from the Shenango Rivers Watchers, also participated.

The Girl Scouts were divided into three groups. Over 50 Brownies were there to earn their Disability Awareness patch and approximately 30 Juniors to earn their Chemistry badge, while a group of nearly two dozen Cadettes and Ambassadors were in attendance to earn their Roots & Shoots patch.

Over the course of the day, the Brownies (second and third graders) were guided across campus to various student-run sessions, organized by the campus’ OT students. The sessions on Disability Awareness, which were developed by Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, ranged from making posters about being respectful towards individuals with disabilities, to hands-on experience with adaptive equipment, and role playing.

The program also included an introduction from Senior OT Instructor Marge Pendzick, a story about Occupational Therapy, written and read by OT instructor Geralyn Wallace, and an ice-cream sundae bar. To conclude the event, the girls formed a friendship circle, signed and recited the Girl Scout Promise (taught earlier in the day), and had their photograph taken in front of the Nittany Lion Shrine.

“As a class, we researched what the girls needed to learn in order to earn their patch, then using that information, we put together the program,” said OTA Club President Kate Erdesky. “I’m extremely proud of the dedication from my classmates and the enthusiasm from the Brownies, contributing to the successful outcome of the day.”

The fourth- and fifth-grade Junior Girl Scouts learned about safety and the proper way to keep a laboratory notebook, then conducted several hands-on experiments, ultimately completing the requirements for a Chemistry badge that was developed by the Girl Scouts of Central Texas. The Girl Scouts were under the guidance of three Penn State Shenango STEM Club members, Megan Wilt (Sharpsville), Krissy Esch (Hermitage), and Kelly Macrae (Grove City), and Dr. Kathy Shaffer, STEM Club co-advisor and chemistry instructor.

During the day, the Junior Girl Scouts investigated household products such as fruit drinks and the water-absorbent polymer in baby diapers, using procedures developed by the American Chemical Society for National Chemistry Week. Each Girl Scout went home with her own laboratory notebook, a National Chemistry activity guide, and a reusable bag provided courtesy of Penn State University Libraries.

“The feedback that we received from the Girl Scouts and their leaders was very positive,” said Shaffer. “We hope to make this an annual event, offering different badges to the girls each year.”

The oldest group of girls, the Cadettes and Ambassadors, joined Baros and  Shenango River Watchers members Jennifer Barborak and Lisa McKenzie, both Penn State alumna, and Monica King, to complete their Roots & Shoots badge. The Girl Scouts prepared, in advance, posters on organisms that are endangered or threatened in Pennsylvania. These posters will be on display at local libraries in the future, and at next July’s WaterFire Sharon event. The Scouts each presented their posters and completed a variety of other activities related to ecology and the environment.

In addition, Barborak, Baros, King and McKenzie each spoke to the Girl Scouts about how they got to their positions as environmentalists of various sorts — both their educational histories and what they do for the environment in their current jobs. The girls then examined aquatic macroinvertebrates from three different tributaries of the Shenango River to assess water quality, and discussed factors that affect water quality. The group was sent home with Penn State Libraries’ goodie bags and information about water quality and the environment from the River Watchers.

“It was a wonderful experience for us as educators and for the Girl Scouts,” said Baros. “The girls learned about migratory waterfowl and discussed what people can do to improve habitats. We pulled the day's discussion together into group projects designing their 'perfect place to live' in harmony with nature.”

For more information about GirlScouts@PSU, contact the Penn State OTA department at 724-983-2890 or Kathy Shaffer at 724-983-2944.