Impact & Leadership

By Vanessa Marie Fernández

“Unlike any other course at Hillbrook, SIL evolves and shifts each year in response to what is happening in our community, what students and faculty want to dig deeper into, and what students share matters to them.”  (Annie Makela,  Founder and Director Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship)

Students farm the food they will have for lunch at Esperanza Community Farms in Watsonville.

Working alongside the 8th grade team to design, organize, and teach the Social Impact and Leadership course at Hillbrook School this past year has been exciting, challenging, and rewarding. SIL invites all Working alongside the 8th grade team to design, organize, and teach the Social Impact and Leadership Working alongside the 8th grade team to design, organize, and teach the Social Impact and Leadership course at Hillbrook School this past year has been exciting, challenging, and rewarding. As Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship founder and director Annie Makela explains, SIL invites all involved to take risks that extend way beyond their comfort zone, leading to community impact and individual growth. Since its inception as a culminating experience for Hillbrook’s Reach Beyond Programming (which begins as early as Junior Kindergarten), SIL’s structure has changed each year it has been taught. Although COVID-19 certainly required more extreme reimagining, this course is intentionally designed to look different every year because the world and the communities that shape it are ever-evolving. For students and teachers alike, the Social Impact and Leadership course entails remaining centered while negotiating ambiguity and unpredictability. Achieving this balance is only possible because this class is grounded in the Scott Center of Social Entrepreneurship’s targeted questions:

What Matters to Me? What am I doing about it?

Students turned ideas into impact
at Virtual Philosophy
during the Art Activism field trip to Downtown San Jose.

The course was structured around 3 processes:

Self Discovery: Students engage in a process of self discovery to help them define what matters most to them. We did this by giving them examples of that journey in a real-world context – people who identified a crucial need and did something  about it. A lesson on farmworkers rights, for instance, culminated with a field trip to Esperanza Community Farms in Watsonville, “a system-changing, sustainable community agriculture project focused on increasing food security and good health among families living in the Pajaro and Salinas Valleys especially those from under-resourced communities.“ (ECF website)

In a reflection piece after the trip, one of our students wrote the following: Esperanza Farms embodies social change and the Scott Center Lenses for Social Entrepreneurship … “Not only is Esperanza Farms an active role model for the rights of migrant workers and hyper local, organic produce, it changes the system that has marginalized and overlooked generations.

Reflection: As with all things in the Scott Center, caring is just the beginning. In the Reflection process, we used a modified version of the “Work on Purpose” workshop, “Head + Heart = Hustle,” asking students to find the intersection between their head, their heart, and their hustle to connect what matters to them with their abilities and skill-sets to develop a project that is right for them.

Project Development: Perhaps the murkiest and most challenging stage for students and educators alike: getting the job done! The third step within the Social Impact and Leadership course is developing a project, and students quickly learn that bringing an idea to life is far beyond a checklist This period of iteration, trial, and error, entails many moments of frustration, but unfailingly leads to powerful growth for all involved in the process.

Students learned about equity in sports from 49ers DEI director Christina Jefferson at Levis Stadium.

Supporting Process

Our ability to organize our course around three processes hinged upon three areas of support: 1) the UNRULR app, 2) the English curriculum, and 3) Mentors

UNRULR APP: If individual process and growth are our main focus, how do we go about assessment? UNRULR became a crucial tool to quantify the unquantifiable. Its flexibility allows for teacher-structured activities as well as more open ended, student-driven reflections. 

How does it work? 

Students uploaded multimedia posts called “moments” on the UNRULR app. These moments add up, and students later pull from them at the end of the course to create a “journey” – a phenomenal UNRULR feature that allows students to have agency in telling the story of their learning. Our UNRULR use mirrored course stages. At the beginning of the course, for example, we were teaching specific content (like the farmworkers’ rights). To guide student reflection on these topics, we created structured prompts like this one: 

Share your experience at Esperanza Community Farms! What did you see, hear, and do? How is this organization making an impact in the community? Connect your experience to one or more of the lenses of social entrepreneurship: Civics, Agency, Systems, Story, Finance, Design.

During the project development phase, UNRULR became a tool for personal check-ins on progress and growth, where students shared their project status and how they were feeling about it. Throughout the course, UNRULR posts were due weekly. By the end, they had plenty of evidence to choose from to construct their journey and tell their story of personal growth and learning. You can see a sample journey here.

English Curriculum: Underscoring how much the Hillbrook community values Social Entrepreneurship education, our English teachers designed their curriculum to amplify what students were learning in the Social Impact and Leadership course. They created activities like an SDG Dinner party in which students had to select a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal and create a guestlist that would ensure vibrant conversation during a dinner party. Other assignments included a What Matters to Me essay, timed to be due just before “Head, Heart, Hustle” took place in SIL. Cross-curricular collaboration uniquely supported student learning and growth – they got to see the connections unfold in real time, with tangible experiences and connected moments between their Social Entrepreneurship education, their classwork, and the rapidly-expanding world around them. 

Mentors: As students’ projects began to take shape, they realized that mentorship from and support from teachers, administrators, and key volunteers across campus could play an important role in moving their work forward. It became clear, for example, that some students would need to spend a significant amount of time in The Hub, our state-of-the-art makers’ space on campus, to build their projects from scratch. Other students were working on projects related to youth mental health, and quickly realized that reaching out to our school counselor would prove beneficial. Students even reached out to Hillbrook alumni for guidance on how to construct projects, such as writing children’s books.

Commitment to Collaboration

Supporting students throughout a process-driven course like SIL entails a genuine commitment to collaboration from all teachers involved in the course. This year, five teachers taught the course, and three of whom played lead roles. Our commitment to collaboration entailed 1) an openness to shared curriculum and assessment development, and 2) a willingness to meet for two hours a week every week and regularly communicate on shared documents and across various digital platforms. We did not miss a single week. In my years as an educator, I have always taken great pride in being collaborative, from cross-curricular collaborations to sharing my materials (even my desk, at times!). Yet I had never experienced the type of collaborative approach that a course like Social Impact and Leadership necessitates. It required that we all relinquish any habits of curricular control and work together to devise something entirely new that belonged to no one. Our experience paralleled what our students were going through, wading through the prickly process of project iteration, trial and error, success and set-back.  Pooling from our varied backgrounds, pedagogical approaches, and areas of expertise we similarly experimented with different types of lessons, activities, assignments, and assessment strategies. In this way, we progressed on our own Social Impact and Leadership journey alongside our students. Just as we wanted to ensure they were learning both about themselves as individual learners and about the topics that their projects addressed, we grew as educators and deepened our own self knowledge. In the end, we managed to create a course that accounted for a multiplicity of learning styles, talents, and interests and became a truly collaborative team with a deep appreciation for each other.  I can’t wait to see what we come up with next year!

The 8th Grade SIL Team: Eden, Kyle, Sarah, Vanessa, and Robert