About two years ago Hannah Holt, now a senior at Newark Valley High School, began formulating in her mind what she might want to pursue for her Girl Scout Gold Award. What eventually unfolded and what she presented on Sept. 13 turned out to be a special and rewarding moment.
A Girl Scout in Richford’s Troop 40276 since the second grade, Hannah previously completed the Bronze and Silver Awards and is currently an Ambassador Scout. The Gold Award is the highest achievement for a Girl Scout.
Her Gold Award objective, Hannah explained, was to transform the outdoor courtyard at the high school, and so that it would see regular use again.
Hannah presented “Hannah’s Homeroom,” an outdoor classroom. The project entailed building 13 benches from scratch, and then placing them in the courtyard.
It was Hannah’s hope that teachers and students would be able to break away from the regular indoor classroom setting and, instead, take time to enjoy the fresh air while learning outdoors.
She commented, “Studies I found showed that going outside reduces anxiety while also increasing creativity and just overall happiness,” and added, “This also helps classmates who might struggle to get outside.”
Earlier this year Hannah was inspired to add a little extra meaning to the plan. The benches evolved into honoring Newark Valley School students who have passed away.
Two individuals remembered are Miranda Brown, a future Class of 2024 student from Richford and her aunt, Traci Baker, a 1999 graduate also from Richford. Brown and Baker passed away in a motor vehicle accident while traveling together in June of 2020.
Each bench tells its own story, and it is these stories that elevate the meaning of Hannah’s Gold Award.
For the Baker and Brown bench, a plaque with both Miranda’s name and Traci’s name appear on one bench. Andrea Baker, Miranda’s mother and Traci’s sister, shared that is very fitting since they were always together in life.
Andrea remarked, “We are very honored that Hannah made this bench.”
Miranda would have started her sophomore year at Newark Valley this year. It is Andrea’s hope that friends of Miranda and Traci, and others in the community, too, will take a few moments on occasion to sit on the benches and just chat, reminisce, and spend time together.
Andrea described sitting on the benches, exclaiming, “It does make you feel better,” and added that the project is, “An amazing tribute.”
Hannah’s plan was originally sketched out to build nine benches, but via a donation account set up at a local home center, Hannah’s total donations allowed her to build more, and 13 in all.
Hannah explained that she did a majority of the work with assistance from her father, such as cutting the lumber, assembling the benches, and staining each bench. The project scope also included talking to families about honoring their loved ones, and then contacting a business to produce engraved plaques for each of the benches. A minimum of 80 hours is required to achieve the Girl Scout Gold Award. Hannah also had help from fellow scouts.
Hannah thanks her parents, the Scout Troop and Leader, all of the families honored, and the school district for approving her plan and allowing her to see the project to fruition.
Gregory Asfoury, Newark Valley High School Principal, remarked, “Hannah did a great job working through and completing her project. She has provided a space where teachers can bring their students outside for instruction.”
Asfoury explained that, going forward, teachers will be able to reserve the outdoor classroom, and added, “The faculty and staff are proud of Hannah for her accomplishments and we look forward to utilizing this educational space.”
Upon graduation, Hannah is considering the field of nursing, and where, she said, “It’s a great career choice, and I like helping people.”
A plaque attached to a stake in the ground near the memorial benches reads, “Hannah’s Homeroom.” It is hoped that the space will inspire others for years to come.