Girl Scout Cadettes bring community kids together through cultural exchange program

Cadettes Create Unity Through Cultural Exchange Program

Meet the Girl Scout Cadettes who created a successful cultural exchange program

After taking three years of Spanish and excelling in those classes, Veronica, 12, still struggled with conversational Spanish. She wanted to do better and help her Spanish-speaking peers assimilate to their new communities and thrive in school. Essentially, Veronica was eager to find the intersection between her skills and the needs of the community. “I wanted to work with kids and empower them to know they could help others, too,” she said. With a large Spanish-speaking immigrant population from both Mexico and the Dominican Republic, her Haverhill, Massachusetts, community seemed like the perfect place to make that happen.

So, in true Girl Scout form, Veronica set out to bring her vision to life. Soon, with two other Girl Scouts—Morgan and Ariel, from Troop 62273 of Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts—on board, hours and hours of careful planning and location-hunting, and a colorful homemade flyer in hand, “Valor Para Todos,” or “Value for All” was born in April 2015.

Here’s how it works: Throughout the school year, a group of about a dozen sixth, seventh and eighth-graders who speak English as a second language (ESL) and want to improve, meet up with Veronica, Morgan, and Ariel after school at Constentino Middle School to teach each other. They do homework, play games, most of which the girls created themselves, and, most importantly, build community. Each session lasts an hour and a half and kicks off with the three Girl Scouts addressing the group in Spanish. The ESL students then try to translate. Starting off this way helps everyone gain confidence, and sets a positive, productive tone for the remainder of the session. This element of equal exchange is critical to Veronica’s mission to give every student a strong sense of involvement and it firmly reinforces that everyone in the room has valuable skills to offer one another. That’s so Girl Scouts!

“Valor Para Todos has kids who just got to the United States positively impacting their communities by teaching us Spanish, while we help them learn English. It’s a kind of transformational community service,” says Veronica. “Together, we discover what is really important—that we all have something valuable to offer. I think this is why we have all become friends, because we’ve grown together.” Morgan is also seeing the rewards of this exciting endeavor. “Valor Para Todos is an inspiring program that has helped me be a leader, learn Spanish, form new friendships, and know that I can make a difference in the world,” she said.

Veronica, Morgan, and Ariel have big plans for the future. They are using their summer break to figure out ways they can make the program even better in the fall, including the possibility of creating kits other groups could use to execute the program in their own communities. “If this project’s method was adopted into different languages, it has the potential to break language barriers worldwide!” says Ariel.

Both the Girl Scouts and the ESL students who have joined the program have benefited immensely from the program. And as if that wasn’t reward enough, the girls recently received their Girl Scout Silver Award, the highest award a Girl Scout Cadette can earn. During their award ceremony, Rosa Maldonado, the service unit team leader for the troop’s area, told her own story about immigrating to the United States from the Dominican Republic, remarking how she wishes she had been involved in a program like Valor Para Todos when she was younger.

Nancy Leotta, the troop’s leader and Veronica’s mom, is proud of the girls’ accomplishments and sees the tangible impact Girl Scouting is having on the girls. “As a troop leader, I want the girls to experience early success in life because that breeds confidence,” she said. “I want them to seek out opportunities. Girls are even more capable of doing amazing things as they get older. This is not the time to leave Girl Scouting. It’s the time to go deeper. Together, there’s just so much we can accomplish for our communities.”

Learn more about Valor Para Todos.