Local high school student Sophia Noto uses her artistic talent to teach children about invasive species


A student from Hopewell Valley Central High School drew the final lines of her year-long art project: an invasive species comic book she created to educate young naturalists at the Watershed Institute.

Sophia Noto created the 18-page comic to qualify for her Girl Scout’s Gold Award, the organization’s highest honor for completing a project that provides lasting solutions for their community.

“I’m really passionate about the environment and I want to help raise awareness. Invasive species are one of the pressing issues we face,” said 17-year-old Sophia. “If we want to make progress with our planet, we must continue to educate the younger generations.

Pat Heaney, assistant director of education at the Watershed Institute, visited Hopewell’s Sophia Noto and went through her comic with her. Photo by Seth Siditsky/The Watershed Institute.

An invasive species can be any type of living organism – a plant, insect, fish, fungus or bacteria – that is not native to an ecosystem and causes damage to new habitat. Invasive plants are harmful to the environment, grow and reproduce quickly, and spread aggressively. They crowd out native species and consume precious water and other resources. Raising awareness is timely given the current National Invasive Species Awareness Week, which runs from February 28 to March 4.

Sophia said she chose a comic format because “I wanted it to be really engaging. The standard textbook style can be hard to learn – they’re dense and not really that inviting. Comics are popular with children and I thought they would be a good way to pass on the information.


She launched her project last year as spotted lanternfly populations exploded and caused serious concern across the region. She worked with the school district’s STEM coordinator and her high school art teacher to shape her project.

With a mix of humor and seriousness, his comic strip provides information on the lantern and four other invasive species – hydrilla, multiflora rose, garlic mustard and Japanese honeysuckle. Sophia chose these invasive species because she wanted to illustrate the problem and possible solutions that the children could tackle.

The Gold Award asks girls to research a topic that interests them and connect with experts, creating a resource with measurable impact. After exploring Sophia’s comic, viewers are asked to complete a poll for audience feedback.


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, assistant director of watershed education.

As part of the project’s leadership criteria, she led a team of seven boys and girls, some of whom were friends and others who were acquaintances or new acquaintances. His project, which took around 150 hours, eclipsed the 80 hours required for a Gold Award.


The comic will reside on the watershed website and will eventually be printed in a paper book. These will be future resources for visiting school children, campers and stewardship volunteers in the 950-acre watershed reserve.

Sophia said she visited the watershed on school trips and with her family.

“The watershed is such an integral part of the Hopewell community. It’s always been at the forefront of my mind when I think about the environment and I’ve been going there since primary school,” she said. “My intention is that the comic be an asset owned by the watershed and, if permitted, can be shared with other environmental groups.”

In grade 8, Sophia created a butterfly coloring book as part of her Girl Scouts Silver Award project. She shared it with attendees of the annual Watershed Butterfly Festival in 2018. Her coloring book is still used by the Watershed Education Team and was adopted for last year’s festival t-shirt. .

Her father, Tom Noto, said the comic book project “was everything to her” from inception to executing the storyboard and design, and leading the team to sketch, draw and color the project. final using digital illustration software. He said she also received great advice from experts at her school and in the watershed.

She will also be honored with a 2022 Mercer County Young Women of Achievement Award at a ceremony in May, with her comic book efforts contributing to her award.

As she ponders her next step, Sophia has applied to a number of highly regarded art schools. She is considering her choices about where she will go to achieve her goal of majoring in graphic design.

Thanks to The Watershed Institute for sharing this story!

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