GOLD AWARD WINNER: Hopewell Valley Central High School senior Sophia Noto’s 18-page comic strip, which she created to teach young naturalists at the Watershed Institute about invasive species, won her highest Girl Scout Award.
By Anne Levin
Growing up in Hopewell, Sophia Noto was blessed with a patch of woods right next to her family’s backyard. It was there that she and her sister spent time exploring, beginning a lifelong enthusiasm for the natural world.
This interest led Sophia, a senior at Hopewell Valley Central High School and a Girl Scout, to create an 18-page comic strip which is currently on the Watershed Institute website and will be printed in a paperback book. This effort earned her the Girl Scout’s Gold Award, the highest honor for completing a project that provides lasting solutions for the community.
Since elementary school, Sophia has visited The Watershed on school outings and with her family. “It’s always been at the forefront of my mind when I think about the environment,” she said. “It is my intention that the comic be an asset owned by The Watershed and, if permitted, may be shared with other environmental groups.”
Focusing on spotted lantern and four other invasive species – hydrilla, multiflora rose, garlic mustard and Japanese honeysuckle – Sophia’s project was designed to teach young people how to identify these species and how to their part to control them.
“Whenever we did a project at school that involved the environment, I was always concerned about the direction we were going for the health of our planet,” she said. “Some things strike me – I remember hearing about the dumps in the middle of the ocean, thinking it’s crazy how we as a society have allowed this to happen.”
The problem of invasive species has also marked the spirits. An invasive species can be any type of living organism that is not native to an ecosystem and therefore can harm new habitat. Plants, insects, fish, fungi or bacteria can be classified as invasive.
When the spotted lanternfly population exploded last year, especially in the local area, Sophia got to work. Using her considerable artistic talents, she decides to take up the comic book project. The book follows three children on their adventures through the woods, on a lake and in their backyard. If the tone is educational, it is sometimes funny. “I wanted it to be light and humorous,” she said. “They were kind of like me when I was a kid.”
Sophia chose a comic book format for her project because she wanted it to be engaging. “Standard textbook style can be difficult to learn,” she said. “They’re dense and not really that inviting. Comics are popular with kids, and I thought they would be a good way to convey information.
She had help with the project. As part of her leadership criteria, she led a team of seven people, some of whom were friends; other acquaintances or new relationships.
“I had a lot of different people working with me,” she said. “From The Watershed, my school STEM coordinator, my classmates, and my younger sister. The minimum for gold is 80 hours, and it took over 100 hours. It took longer because of the pandemic.
This isn’t Sophia’s first Girl Scout honor. In eighth grade, she created a butterfly coloring book as part of her Girl Scouts Silver Award project and shared it with visitors to The Watershed’s 2018 Butterfly Festival. The coloring book is still used by The Watershed’s education team and was adopted for last year’s festival T-shirt.
Sophia is currently awaiting news on university acceptances and plans to major in graphic design. In the meantime, visitors to the Watershed Institute’s website can access his work.
With the comic, Sophia “took the global problem of invasive species and biodiversity loss and brought it to a local level where people can do something about it,” said Pat Heaney, deputy director of education. by The Watershed.