Sustainability is important to the Neumann family.
Not only have they adopted a vegetarian lifestyle, but they also compost and tend a garden in their backyard – which has grown considerably larger amid the pandemic.
“We learned about it through Girl Scouts,” said 16-year-old Kathryn Neumann, a Girl Scout of 13 years.
Since, Kathryn has taken that passion for sustainability to school, introducing it to her Scottsdale Preparatory Academy campus via the club she founded two years ago, Students for Sustainability.
And it’s been so successful, it’s earned Kathryn the most prestigious award a Girl Scout can get: the Gold Award.
“It feels surreal,” the Scottsdale Preparatory Academy senior said.
According to Girl Scouts spokesperson Vianca Navarete, the Gold Award is given to high school girls “who demonstrate extraordinary leadership in developing sustainable solutions to local, national, and global challenges.”
In 2018, Kathryn founded the Students for Sustainability club with a mission of educating fellow students on how to build a sustainable culture.
Students for Sustainability’s monthly and annual programs include recycling programs, zero waste initiatives, and sustainable service.
For example, during the club’s first year, they purchased recycling bins for the school with the money raised from their Consumable Book Store sales and then educated the student body on how to properly use the bins.
Over the past two years, Kathryn said she’s noticed a change in fellow students’ attitudes as a result of the club.
“The biggest thing I noticed ... [is] they are much more environmentally conscience. [They] don’t use plastic bags, they have their own straws; it’s little things like that. And they don’t stop there either,” Kathryn said.
“They’re not just looking to me; they look on their own, which I think is very important. And I think that’s what having a sustainability club does: It changes the culture of the school.”
Scottsdale Prep’s headmaster Alison Chaney said Kathryn has demonstrated a true passion for sustainability throughout her time at the charter school.
“She has created numerous opportunities for our students to develop better habits in terms of recycling and donation of old materials. Her initiatives to build awareness about recycling were invaluable in creating more awareness and commitment,” Chaney said.
“We are grateful to her for her countless hours of work and leadership in our Sustainability Club.”
The idea for the club was inspired by Kathryn’s older sister Alexandra.
Alexandra also won a Gold Award four years ago for her school supply drive, Salvage the School Supplies, which collects new and gently used school supplies to donate to other students in need.
More than 150 hours of researching, educating, and executing later, Kathryn will take home her own Gold Award at the 2021 Gold Award ceremony in June.
“Not only did she make an impact at her school and in her community, but she learned project management skills, communication and time management skills, and other life skills she can take with her as she gets ready for college,” Navarete said.
Following graduation, Kathryn plans to study molecular engineering at one of the many universities she has applied to, including MIT, Cornell University and the University of Chicago.
“University of Chicago is probably my top choice because they have a very involved research program for molecular engineering, but it’s specifically for sustainable water and energy systems, which is right up my alley because I want to engineer renewable energy,” Kathryn explained.
While Kathryn’s hopes for the club after she leaves includes getting solar panels approved and installed at the school, she hopes, at the very least, they will continue to run the Salvage the School Supplies drive.
“Because that’s at the very heart of it,” she said.