Creativity in the Age of COVID

by Annie Makela, Founding Director of the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Hillbrook School

I’ve always been a lover of school supplies, from perfectly packaged felt tip pens to colorful Post-Its to new paper notebooks. I’m also a person who totally loves the magic of “tinkering time” — hours spent dreaming, experimenting, and playing around with these materials. And I’m very lucky that in my time at the Scott Center I’ve been supported by a terrific team of like-minded people, who believe education is a massive pursuit of imagination and invention, and who know exactly what to do when the time comes to “get creative.” 

As you might well imagine, that time is right now. 

Our vision at the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Hillbrook School is to inspire all learners to see the world as it is, imagine what it might be, and partner with their communities to realize long-term impact for people and the planet. We do this by working with “the three Ps” — PEOPLE, PLANET, PARTNERSHIP — and by asking learners of all ages our two core questions: What Matters To You? and What Are You Doing About It? This year in particular, we’re also doing this through a renewed commitment to integrating our vision with the critical work of DEI at Hillbrook and to deepening our partnerships in our Los Gatos and San Jose community.

Our mission is to impact the world in positive ways that are both practical and idealistic. We start by helping learners identify their interests, then give them the tools and guidance they need to create actionable change. We’ve engaged more than 500 students since 2017; taught more than 420 hours of Social Entrepreneurship curriculum; and have connected with students, teachers, and lifelong learners both domestically and around the world. Our Six Pillars of Social Entrepreneurship Education — Story, Civics, Finance, Agency, Design, and Systems — give even our youngest students the foundation to be activists and leaders who learn to strengthen communities; participate in hands-on civic action; shape social, economic, and cultural systems; take responsibility for ecological health; design for an ethical world; and foster diversity and inclusion. 

In the past six-plus months, all of us — and all of you — have experienced unimaginable turmoil, change, and heartbreak. But even in our personal and professional exhaustion, grief, and disconnection, our valiant Scott Center team returned to what matters most to us…and it turned out to be scissors and glue, two of the most iconic symbols of classroom creativity. 

For us, “getting creative” in the Age of COVID has meant: Let’s imagine what doesn’t currently exist. Let’s appreciate organizational structure and well-organized lists — and simultaneously face ambiguity without fear. Let’s prioritize partnerships and collaborative learning to problem solve our most complex challenges. 

The last six months have been full of creative energy. We welcomed Matt Callahan as our new Associate Director; Matt’s energy is unmatched, and his passion for education is inspirational. Together our team completely re-imagined our summer programming to transition 12 camps to an online or hybrid format. Over the course of many hot summer days and months — for more than 100+ hours! — 75 children gathered in groups on Zoom and Google Meet to create a strong and vibrant community. While the programs were virtual, they were characterized by meaningful learning and authentic joy. For two weeks we partnered with Sam Price, an amazing local artist, who led us in Collage Art for Impact and taught all of us the ins and outs of cutting up what is no longer needed and gluing it back together into something beautiful, fresh, and new. 

In the middle of this camp, as I sat cutting old magazines into tiny strips and recombining them on my paper, it dawned on me that the act of collaging was not only a wonderful art form, but also an apt symbol of what we at the Scott Center often do in our work with children, faculty, and social impact educators around the country: cut up existing ideas and practices and reassemble them into new educational models. That’s what “Scissors and Glue” represents for us. 

What’s next? While the pandemic challenges continue to be real and demanding, we are confident, optimistic, and undaunted. I know I speak for my whole team when I say how proud we are to be part of Hillbrook School, and how honored we are to work in partnership with the Scott Foundation. Even with all the pain of 2020, we remain filled with excitement, hope, and optimistic curiosity about what the future will hold. We hope you will join us as we greet a new school year, and we can’t wait to share our journey with you.