Community Care Through a Sense of Belonging

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

In our January newsletter, we shared our thinking about what attributes and mindsets are connected to being a changemaker. We heard from many of you with suggestions, ideas, and thoughts about what you loved from our list and what you thought was missing. One recommendation that seemed consistent across the board was the idea of community care through empathy, partnership, and a sense of belonging. 

This idea pushed us to notice how, this month in particular, our students challenged systems of injustice and wondered how they might play a role in making someone else feel a sense of belonging. I have been thinking so much about the word belonging and what it means in our commitment as a school and Center to be actively anti-racist. Throughout the month celebrating Black History, we recognized and honored the legacies and achievements of amazing Black changemakers who have shown their bravery, creativity, grit, and resilience, from Dr. Mae Jemison and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Kamala Harris and Jon Batiste. Through films, reenactments, narrative prompts, and community engagement projects, our students did not shy away from asking big questions about equality, justice, and inclusion. 

After watching Hidden Figures as part of a Reach Beyond Block lesson, one middle school student shared, “I can’t imagine how Katherine Johnson felt in that room every day. We have talked about the word intersectionality in terms of race and gender but I think this movie also taught me there is also a lot of intersectionality of emotions. Happiness and fear. I don’t know what it feels like for someone to tell me that I don’t belong somewhere and I hope I never make anyone feel that way.” This was shared by a student who consistently checks in on our distance learners. He greets new sixth graders with an offer to show them around campus. He enters class by asking, “Anything I can do to help today?” This student feels a deep sense of belonging at Hillbrook and also takes his role of creating an environment for others to be seen and valued very seriously. He is rich in social capital because of his kindness and curiosity towards others. 

As Black History month comes to an end, we remain steadfast in our commitment to our DEIJ work. We will continue to celebrate Black history and Black joy in all the months of the year. We all long to belong, to be seen and valued as unique individuals with ideas and dreams and gifts for the world. This is at the heart of our work at the Scott Center, and it is why we ask learners what matters to them and what they’re doing about it. I hold deep optimism that, as more and more children share with us that “CHANGEMAKER” is what they want to be when they grow up, we are witnessing a cracking open of a society that is ready and ripe for our young people to innovate, create, and shift the equilibrium towards a more just society. In case you need some inspiration regarding how this is playing out at school, here are just a few ways that Hillbrook Changemakers showed love and worked to create a sense of belonging within our on- and off-campus communities this month:

-A second grader spread kindness and joy to her classmates by taking orders for more than 50 paper pandas. We were very impressed with her strong social entrepreneurial instincts to make a spreadsheet to track all her orders and expenses! 

-A sister duo, Lilianna and Annabelle, created LilyBelle, an initiative to make 15 homeless care packages each month and deliver them to San Jose Family Shelter. 

-The entire JK class worked together to design a reenactment of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and readily connected that experience to the BLM protests happening today.

-Sixth graders planned a weekend meet-up at Nirvana Soul to support a women- and Black-owned business right here San Jose.

-Third graders showed a deep commitment to keeping our campus clean by organizing a creek clean-up and recycling an old tire. 

-Seventh graders from Ms. Ngo’s elective used the Hub to design in response to concrete needs within our community (be sure to read the Student Voice story to learn more about this!). 

-Sixth graders from the Identity and Impact elective supported the JK class in their Bus Boycott reenactment by making protest signs and reminiscing about their memories of doing this lesson as kindergarteners (see photo!).

-Kindergarten students made “handmade high fives” to give to their Hillbrook Heroes on campus.

As we move into the longer, brighter days of spring, let us continue learning from and following the legacy of those who share our optimism around positive change for people and the planet, people willing to see the world as it is and who have the audacity to imagine what equity, justice, and belonging for all might look like locally and globally.