Friday, July 28, 2017

Changing the World, One Math Problem at a Time

Today I am working on the final pieces of my Gold Award project. Of course, it still needs to be approved by the council. But now that I am just a few steps away from officially closing this chapter of my life, I think its time to really reflect on what this project has taught me about myself, about others, and about what's really important.

This project took me so far out of my comfort zone, I can't even see it anymore. I have always been able to talk with adults, and I'm pretty stellar at public speaking if I say so myself, but for this project, I didn't just have to talk with adults. I had to seek out an audience with a principal I did not know. This principal did not know me and was probably thinking- who is this crazy girl that wants to give me more work to do? It was terrifying. All I knew to do was be prepared and hope that these adults took me seriously. Another thing that was terrifying in its own right- being in charge. This was my program; I created it, and I recruited people to come. It was up to me to make sure that it didn't utterly fail. I'd like to think that it was a success, but on that first morning, I was sick to my stomach. I was so afraid that people would be looking to me for guidance on what to do, and I would have no idea. It turned out to be better than I thought, and I learned how to look like I knew what I was doing. It was always the simple things that freaked me out. For example, when we went to the gym to call the kids to the lunch room for tutoring, all of the tutors looked to me to talk to the teachers in charge of the gym. It was a really small thing, but it was something that I had to get over. I took a deep breath and did what I had to do. I think that it was really important that I learned how to do that now rather than later.

Probably one of the most important lessons I learned about other people is that they will surprise you. I asked my friends to wake up really early and tutor at a program that had never existed before. That required a lot of trust on their part that I wasn't going to let everything fall apart. If someone had asked me to do the same, I'm not sure that I would have been too eager to join in. But they did. They got up, they showed up, and they made those kids really happy. They even continued to come after they weren't getting any tutoring hours out of it. If you are reading this and you tutored for my program, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I was so worried that no one would show up, but you did. I really appreciate that. You made me slightly less sick to my stomach.

This past year has been the busiest of my entire life. From college applications to my multiple AP classes, it was never time for relaxation. In the spring semester alone I was managing my responsibilities as officer of two different honor societies at school, studying and doing homework for four AP classes that I took during the day, studying for six AP exams in May, worrying about my grade in band, deciding what college I wanted to spend the next four years of my life at, applying for scholarships, and to top it off, leading the tutoring sessions two mornings a week. There barely seemed to be enough hours in the day. Sleep was often the victim of my busy schedule. If someone were to look at my huge list of responsibilities and tasks, they might say, why are you doing the Gold Award? It seems to be producing the least amount of results for what you are putting in. In simple terms, not enough bang for my buck. After all, my grades and AP classes all helped me become Valedictorian. And, scholarships and colleges are arguably the most important thing to be worrying about senior year. But to this I say, that is absolutely false. My Gold Award project was, in my opinion, the most important thing I did all year. In fact, I believe that it is the most important thing that I have done in my entire four years in high school.

Don't believe me, I'll explain. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I went to an elementary school that consists of students that are growing up very differently than I did. In many ways, they don't have the same privileges and experiences that I was fortunate enough to have. But I get to go, starting my days an hour earlier, and tutor them. It is very rewarding to help someone understand something. I was so happy when they finally learned how to add fractions with different denominators or answer all of the multiplication flashcards correctly. And sometimes we didn't tutor. We gave them advice about middle school or asked them what they wanted to do in the future. We asked them what clubs they wanted to join when they went to high school. At the end of the program, we wrote them letters about what we hoped they would accomplish or what potential we saw in them. At the end of the program, I knew every child's name. I knew their personalities. I knew what type of math problem could trip them up. I also saw them change. I saw students that were reluctant to be there at first form bonds with my tutors. Even the most challenging students, behavior wise, gave me a big hug at the end of it. I am going to miss those kids with all my heart when I go to college this fall. They allowed me to start the day off right. But I know that there are so many kids like them in the world that are waiting for someone to come and invest in them. I also know that I am leaving them in good hands.

The experiences I had and the lessons I learned are irreplaceable, and they are exactly why the Gold Award requires what it does. Finding an issue to solve makes you more observant to your community. Making a plan requires organization and communication skills. Proposing your plan to the council takes some serious courage. Taking action requires bravery, passion, and experiencing the terrifying feeling of not knowing what you are supposed to do and still having people look to you for guidance. (That was by far the scariest part of doing the Gold Award: making you learn how to be in charge.) Creating a team requires networking, communication, cooperation, and coordination. (Also very difficult.) Measuring your impact forces you to look critically at what you have done. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Finally, making your project sustainable helps create a lasting difference in the world. It's crazy to say but I have changed the world. It may have only been in one elementary school or even in the mind of one student, but a change is a change nonetheless. The impact of what my team of tutors and friends have done this past year may very well echo for a very long time.

Every morning, I would record how many tutors came in my notebook. Usually while tutoring, pages would get ripped out to practice cursive or demonstrate fractions. I didn't usually pay much attention to where it was at a given moment. One day, one of the kids wrote a message on one of the pages. I'm not sure who it was and I didn't find it until recording all of the data for my project report. The message read, "We love you guys" in sloppy cursive. And that right there is why my Gold Award project is the most important thing I have done in high school. I tore it out of my notebook and pinned it to my bulletin board in my room. I had to cover something in order to pin it since my board is so full. Accidentally, I pinned it over a quote that I have thought about a lot this year. In fact, I wrote an essay about it when applying for one of those scholarships I mentioned. The quote is by William Hazlitt and says this, "Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be." This is perfectly placed because that quote demonstrates what my project was all about. It is a uniquely human quality to stand up and make a change when we can see things that are not what they could be.

So, I would like to thank my tutors, my teachers, and the principal of the elementary school for helping me accomplish all that we have. I also want to thank the organization of Girl Scouts for providing me the medium and support to change the world over the past thirteen years. I hope that all Girl Scouts take advantage of the Gold Award opportunity and change the world, one math problem at a time.

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