Local girl scout Caitlin Bayaca shows off the outline of a mural she created at Mintie White Elementary School as part of her Gold Award project. —Johanna Miller/The Pajaronian

WATSONVILLE—Caitlin Bayaca is on track to earn the highest award of the Girl Scouts organization. 

The Gold Award is designed for high school-age scouts and ambassadors, who create, propose and lead a major community service project.

Bayaca, a senior at Aptos High School and part of Troop 10072, is leading an art project at Mintie White Elementary School in Watsonville. She is creating a mural and a “sensory path” on the school’s playground, involving the students in the process. 

Bayaca said she has always loved art, and wanted it to be the center of her award. But there was another reason she chose this particular project.

“Since the pandemic, I noticed that a lot of kids struggled with distance learning,” she said. “My mom and brother work here, and they say there have been a lot of behavior issues since they came back. It was basically a year’s loss, especially with the younger kids. They didn’t have the opportunity to practice a lot of social skills when they’re not in person with other kids. I wanted to do something that would promote positive social interaction and unity.”

A Gold Award is completed with help from a project advisor. For Bayaca, that was Mintie White art teacher Kat Chien. She also worked with principal Rich Moran and other staff and faculty. 

After writing her project proposal, Bayaca had to submit it to the Girl Scout committee, revise it and then get approval from the school board. 

“It was a long, detailed process,” she said. 

The mural depicts a large eagle, the school’s mascot, and will include the phrase “Great and Mighty Eagles, Together We Rise.” Bayaca has already created the outline of the piece on a storage container on campus. When students return from winter break next week, they will get the chance to fill in the colors. 

The sensory path project will follow after. The path will be drawn on the ground and include activities and games that promote positive social interaction among students.

“When it’s all done, I’m going to hold an event where the kids can come and I’ll teach them how to use it,” Bayaca said. “I hope this whole project helps students develop and connect with each other positively, creating stronger bonds.”

Bayaca said her Gold Award project will not only look good on high school transcripts, but also prepare her for her future.

“I want to be a teacher,” she said, “so it’s kind of cool I’m working on this project at a school. I get to talk to teachers, seeing the behind-the-scenes of what goes into teaching and working with these kids.”

Bayaca has been involved with the Girl Scouts since she was in first grade, and says she is grateful for the experience. 

“Being a Girl Scout, especially for this long, has definitely pushed me outside my boundaries,” she said, “to become more of a leader and try new things. I wouldn’t be doing this project if I wasn’t a Girl Scout. It keeps me engaged with my community.”

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.



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