Hillbrook's Inaugural Reach Beyond Week Kicks Off

Mary Hammers, Writer, Hillbrook Communications
What matters to you, and what are you going to do about it? Those two questions kicked off Reach Beyond week for Hillbrook students Monday in San Jose. Students were asked to consider what they care about and how they hope to make a difference as the school launched an ambitious and exciting week of exploration and social impact learning. Reach Beyond Week is not like any field trip you remember from school: it is an age-appropriate, deep dive into an area of interest selected by students with intentional learning opportunities designed by faculty with help from Annie Makela, Director of the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Hillbrook.

During the week, small groups of Hillbrook 6th-8th graders will, among other things, spend the week on mountain bikes, in meetings with civic leaders and high tech executives, exploring the garment district of Los Angeles, or the fishing communities of Santa Cruz County. They will ask questions and seek answers about history, community, sustainability, resource management, storytelling and more.The idea is to take 6th-8th graders out of the classroom for a week and send them on real-world, hands-on learning excursions in the community where they can explore ideas, activities and subjects that interest them. The hope is that as students learn more, they will be inspired to act on their passions and ultimately become change-makers. Reach Beyond week aims to take a spark of interest in a child and turn it into a flame that leads to personal fulfillment, a better understanding of the world in which we live, and a sense of how they can help make it better.

There are ten excursion groups in all, including the international trip to China and Taiwan. Each experience was collaboratively designed by faculty to reach students where they are and stretch them in new ways. They include: a backpacking trip, a filmmaking experience, sustainable fishing, the cultural history of San Francisco, the future of San Jose, an exploration of the ethical and sustainable fashion world, and more. Though the experiences are designed to be fun, they also seek to ask big questions and help students search for solutions. For instance, backpackers will hike and camp in nature to better understand land preservation and the way in which our consumption of resources, land and materials affects the preservation of wild spaces. Budding fashionistas and designers will learn how clothing is made, how a fashion business is run, the resources used to make clothing, and also the ways in which designers are using fashion as a tool for social change. Another group will spend the week on two wheels mountain biking through the local mountains as they learn about accessibility, environmental protection efforts, and habitat preservation and renewal. Students exploring the future of San Jose will meet with civic and business leaders to learn how the city works, and what its needs are going forward, including adding their input to the proposed Google campus in San Jose. On each adventure, from fishing to filmmaking, the learning is hands-on and the experiences are designed to enlighten, excite, challenge and empower students to become agents of change in the community. Each experience was carefully designed by Head of Middle School, Christina Pak, Director of Teaching and Learning Ilsa Dohmen, and Director of the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship Annie Makela to educate and inspire students while also highlighting areas of interest or expertise for teachers and faculty.

Monday’s kickoff event, organized and led by Makela, involved a series of social impact talks, akin to mini-TED talks, giving students a chance to learn from various thought leaders about how they look at the world and the ways in which they are trying to make an impact. The director of Kiva, San Jose who spoke about the power of micro-finance loans to launch small businesses locally, a Bay Area social entrepreneur spoke about how her passion for gender equality in India inspired her to start a business supporting female weavers and their artisan products, and a faculty member from Castilleja School talked about microcivics and how making small changes, like turning off lights or forgoing plastic straws, can be transformative when they inspire a ripple-effect of change.

It was perhaps fitting that the kickoff event was held at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose just days after the Cesar Chavez holiday in California. Head of School Mark Silver pointed out that Chavez represents someone who identified his passion, helping farmworkers, and believed he could make a difference. Chavez’ fight for better working conditions was transformative for American farmworkers and his movement began in San Jose. In fact, the Mexican Heritage Plaza is built on the site of the former Safeway where Chavez began his grape boycott to protest unfair wages and working conditions for farmworkers. Chavez’ childhood home is right around the corner from the Plaza.

Inspiration is a theme of this Reach Beyond week, and teachers and administrators have worked hard to create outings that expose students to interesting people, places and experiences. Lessons during Reach Beyond week won’t come from textbooks, but these real world experiences are thoughtfully designed to enrich the middle school educational experience. No matter how or where they are spending their week, the message to students is clear: knowing what you care about helps focus your intentions and actions. The change makers of tomorrow are starting today by learning about the world around them, and exploring how creativity, passion and knowledge can help them find ways to make a difference.
To learn more about the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Hillbrook, click here.