As Girl Scout seniors in high school, Cathy Zhang and Sarina Saran recently completed the Gold Award, the highest achievement a Girl Scout can earn.
As part of that effort, they worked with Chrissy Brownson at Providence Elementary School in Fairfax County to run a summer-enrichment program.
FLASH [Financial Literacy and STEAM Heroes] Camp was designed to address specific weaknesses in the elementary-school curriculum that Zhang and Saran have noticed throughout their experiences in the county school system.
After dividing students into two groups, Zhang and Saran rotated groups halfway through the day. One half of the day was focused on financial-literacy lessons, led by Zhang (a student at McLean High School). She is passionate about financial-literacy education for youth and has founded a nonprofit – Financial Literacy for Youth – to advance this area of education in underserved communities.
Zhang established a unique system to teach financial literacy to the students. She set up a class “share jar” and store, as well as made each student a “wallet” with plastic baggies and a “savings account” with decorated paper boxes. With this system, she would pay students with paper money for participation and effort. At the end of the day, students used the money earned to make hands-on financial decisions.
Students learned and put to use principles such as the “Three S’s” (saving, spending, sharing), interest, budgeting, risk and insurance, credit and debit, checks, credit score, and purposes of a bank. To further engage students, Zhang planned interactive activities, such as budgeting for a dream vacation.
“My hopes were for them to learn financial literacy, but more importantly, to just have fun,” Zhang said. “The students come from various backgrounds and have experienced their own set of challenges, so I am really proud of them. Their curiosity and excitement for learning always inspires me.”
The other half of the day involved hands-on STEAM activities. This part of camp was focused on introducing students to the staples of the scientific curriculum. Each lesson illustrated different aspects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, each with an artistic twist.
These foundations are important as students venture forward in their careers, whether in their future education or beyond.
Saran currently is studying at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology, and is invested in building STEAM expertise in Fairfax County elementary-school students, well before they head towards high school and careers. She was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the students, as they offered different perspectives and came from an interesting and diverse range of backgrounds.
After a week, both Saran and Zhang were sad to leave the students, and there were a lot of difficult feelings at the end. All of the students gathered together and created a large paper mural to draw what they learned and sign their name. As a celebratory activity, both Scouts took the students to the front of the school to draw with chalk and play games.
Throughout this summer journey, not only did the younger students learn, but Zhang and Saran learned considerably, as well.
“The experience was an incredible opportunity to engage with a younger audience and share my love for topics I’m passionate about. I was grateful for the opportunity to do both and I also learned a lot about what it means to give back to a community that represents our future,” Saran said.
Beyond teaching lessons in an interactive way and connecting with students from different backgrounds, the high-schoolers learned about themselves, too. They realized they could quickly become friends with the young students despite the age gap. They made sure to emphasize a friendship, more so than a teacher-student dynamic.
Throughout high school, the two Girl Scouts have discovered their own strengths and passions, using these to guide their journeys to make an impact.