Four members of Girl Scout Troop 691 from San Gabriel have received Gold Awards: Emily Sayaka Casciani, Lauren Nicole Chiou, Kaiya Erin Suehiro, and Amanda Grace Wong.
Troop 691 was started when the girls were in first grade at Coolidge Elementary School in the San Gabriel Unified School District. All four girls graduated from Gabrielino High School in June 2022.
The Girl Scouts of America describes recipients of the Gold Award, the highest award bestowed by the organization, as “the dreamers and the doers who take make the world a better place to the next level.” To earn a Gold Award, candidates are required to plan and implement a challenging, large-scale project that is innovative, engages others, and has a lasting impact on its target community with an emphasis on sustainability.
Emily Sayaka Casciani has been a Girl Scout for 12 years and is the daughter of Julie (Kaato) and Giulio Casciani. She was awarded for her project titled “Kindness Is a Language the Deaf Can Hear.” It was a year-long effort that culminated in the development of an educational interactive and thought-provoking workshop at the fifth-grade level of Coolidge Elementary School.
Emily truly believes that students of all ages should have more awareness of the day-to-day challenges of the disabled, and in particular, the deaf community. It’s hard enough to not be able to communicate, but the lack of awareness and means for others to communicate with the hearing-impaired worsens the issue. Some schools still do not recognize American Sign Language (ASL) as another language — a standard she believes should be changed. She advocates for visual languages such as ASL and urges that it be recognized as a foreign language credit from elementary to college levels. Bridging the world between those with disabilities and those without is important as a means to achieve global oneness.
Diagnosed with a learning disability (auditory processing disorder) herself, Emily decided on pursuing ASL as her foreign language because it was more amenable to her learning style. She attended ASL classes at East Los Angeles College in her junior and senior years and is now officially going to further her education through a third year of ASL as an incoming freshman at the University of Oregon.
Through the support and collaboration of two teachers, Stephanie Troung and Carol Thompson (who was herself a professional interpreter in the past), Emily created hands-on and virtual experiences to teach the basics of ASL 1 as well as many other fundamental communication signs to two classes of elementary students through slideshows and competitive interactive activities such as “Heads Up!”
She challenged students to consider what it must be like to be hard of hearing. They, in fact, were compelled to communicate through their newly learned ASL alphabet and words. The classes were also fortunate to virtually meet a special guest who works for Disney, April Caputi. Deaf from birth, she is a hard-working and successful creative associate for several Disney shows and was kind enough to share her journey and challenges through a Zoom interview. Through the workshop, Emily created an engaging environment for students to learn how ASL is a bridge to anyone who needs help, compassion and empathy.
Through fundraising and donations, Emily was able to provide many educational components to support her learning module. She provided full class sets of “My First Book of Sign Language” and “Rise and Shine.” She gave access to her Google classroom and slides to both teachers to ensure that her workshop will continue in the future.
She also purchased an array of both fiction and non-fiction books based on the experiences and lives of the deaf and hearing-impaired. These hardcover, library-quality books are for children of all elementary ages and are now housed at the Coolidge Elementary School library for everyone to learn from and enjoy. She hopes that through the workshops, recordings and books, she left the students curious and eager to learn not only empathy but also a desire to be that bridge through ASL.
Emily is a member of the 2022 graduating class of Gabrielino High School and is now about to embark on her next adventure as a freshman at the University Of Oregon.
Lauren Nicole Chiou has been a member of Troop 691 for 12 years and is the daughter of Michael and Cyndi Chiou. She graduated Gabrielino High School in 2022 and will be attending UC Santa Barbara. She was awarded for her work in student mental health and wellness. She helped create and furnish the Gabrielino High School Wellness Center and Wellness Kits.
Student anxiety and depression is an epidemic in our society. The COVID-19 pandemic has made student mental health more important than ever. Lauren partnered with Chris Saporito, Gabrielino High School Wellness Center counselor, to furnish and set up the Wellness Center Lounge. The purpose of the Wellness Center is to provide students with a relaxing space and access to mental health services. Through generous donations, she was able to purchase furniture and wellness supplies to help create the relaxing space.
However, it soon became clear that the pandemic would present unforeseen problems. With the reopening of schools uncertain and students unable to visit the Wellness Center in person, Lauren came up with the idea for Wellness Kits, which included stress-relieving supplies and resources, and were distributed in the school parking lot to 130 students.
The Wellness Center is currently active on campus and benefiting the student body by providing a safe environment. By giving students the tools to discuss mental health, they will be more empathetic and able to help others who may be suffering as well.
Kaiya Erin Suehiro has been a member of Troop 691 for 12 years and is the daughter of Nicole Carney and Michael Suehiro. She graduated from Gabrielino High School in 2022 and will be attending California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo in the fall.
Kaiya created “The Wellness Book: 99 Ways to Destress” to give students tips and activities to do to deal with different types of acute stress. Each tip was illustrated by teen volunteers. The book also provides examples, explanations, instructions, suggestions, hotlines, and referrals to outside resources. Physical copies of the book were made available to students at Gabrielino High School and Jefferson Middle School, and a digital version is accessible on both schools’ Wellness Center websites.
Kaiya held two workshops for students and Girl Scouts to create illustrations for the book, and two for them to interact with the finished book. In addition to the book, Kaiya put together an activity basket with an origami activity, coloring books, puzzles, and fidget toys to leave in the GHS Wellness Center for students to enjoy. She also had two positive reminder posters made to decorate the room.
Her project is part of the movement to destigmatize mental health in the classroom, and she hopes it can help teens manage their stress in healthy ways.
Amanda Grace Wong has been a member of Troop 691 for 12 years and is the daughter of Nancy and Paul Wong. She graduated from Gabrielino High School in 2022 and is attending California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
She was awarded for her project, “Crafts to Relax.” Amanda worked with Gabrielino High School’s Wellness Center to support mental health within her school. Her project’s focus was to provide students with hands-on activities when they need a classwork break during the school day. After researching various crafts, she implemented five different craft kits with stress-relief benefits at the Wellness Center: Origami, puzzles, bead sliders, bead and wood stick fidgets, and aromatherapy sachets.
In addition to assembling the craft kits, Amanda put together detailed step-by-step instructions with pictures as well as video tutorials for each craft. These guides will make creating the crafts a smooth and enjoyable process. At the start of the 2022-2023 school year, the Gabrielino High School’s Wellness Center expanded and opened its doors during lunch to provide a space for students to hang out with friends or make stress-relieving crafts.
To support this initiative, Amanda also purchased puzzles, games, and books for students to utilize. She hopes that students will enjoy creating the crafts and be reminded of the importance of taking breaks.