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Your Voice Can Make a Difference: Stanford Journalist and Latin Radio Host Celina Rodriguez and Hillbrook Alumni Inspire Middle School Students

Anne-Marie Strohman
What better way to start our Middle School Reach Beyond Week than with some star power! Celina Rodriguez, Stanford journalism fellow and Latina radio host of La Kaliente, spoke at our Reach Beyond Week kick-off assembly. She shared ways that she has been able to use writing and journalism as tools for social change--from advocating for causes to shining a light on social issues in her reporting.

Rodriguez, who spoke at Hillbrook a year ago, also visited with Junior Kindergarteners and Kindergarteners as they begin their “Changemakers” unit. Students from all grades were eager to ask questions about her time reporting on labor movements, social activists, and co-founders of the National Farmworkers Association Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

Rodriguez inspired our 5th-8th grade students to listen, explore, and ask questions as they fan out across Silicon Valley and around the world during Reach Beyond Week, a week dedicated to forwarding real-world changemaking, social impact, and social entrepreneurship work.

Students were also inspired by three outstanding Hillbrook alums who have taken the learning they did at Hillbrook to the next level in their high school careers.

Max Ptacek ‘17, now at Bellarmine Prep, shared the way his passion for finance has directed his work for social impact. Max’s participation in The Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship's inaugural Summer Apprenticeship program last summer helped him focus his attention on the potential impacts of new technology as a tool impact lives around the world. In high school, Max has pursued networking opportunities, interacting with leaders in finance that he can learn from and begin conversations with. He is also passionate about putting social finance into action through his microfinance group at Bellarmine, funding small loans through Kiva, a company that gives small business owners in underserved and untapped markets access to investment capital. Max is using his interests and passions to make an impact now, as well as to prepare himself for a life of making a difference in the world.

Maya Bond ‘18, now at Notre Dame High School, has taken the love of art fostered at Hillbrook and developed it into a means of community impact. Her 8th grade capstone project centered on Arts Education, helping her understand why art is important for young learners and how to advocate for expanded youth arts programs in schools throughout the Bay Area. Maya has also taken steps to use art as a tool for social change in her community by entering her artwork in the Downtown Doors competition in San Jose, which places student work around downtown San Jose to beautify and help eradicate vandalism and graffiti in the downtown landscape. She exemplified Hillbrooks Core Value “Take Risks” by entering: “my artwork is so personal,” she says, “but [entering the contest has] definitely built me and helped me grow.” While Maya is focused on local impact with her art, she is committed to using her skills for global change: she is exploring the impact she and others can have on the environment and climate change and takes seriously the ways she and her peers can be conscious helpers to a global community.

Maddie McKenzie ‘18, now at Sobrato High School, has had a great social impact on Hillbrook itself. In Maddie’s 8th grade science class, students explored the impact of single-use plastic on the environment. This study led Maddie and some fellow students to lead the charge to install the filtered water dispenser next to the Multipurpose Room (MPR). The project has greatly reduced the number of single-use plastic water bottles disposed of on campus. A freshman at a high school in Morgan Hill, Maddie is involved with Future Farmers of America (FFA), a national organization that has given her practice in public speaking and ample opportunities to meet and connect with students from across the country at a number of FFA’s conventions. Maddie is constantly meeting new people and takes full advantage of the organization’s resources to develop an array of leadership skills. Whether she uses these skills to impact our food system, her local community, or communities around the globe, Maddie’s commitment to reaching beyond herself will honor Hillbrook.

Max, Maya, and Maddie encouraged students to keep Hillbrook’s Core Values in mind as they embark on their Reach Beyond Week experiences, try on new skills and passions, and find opportunities where they can make an impact for social change. The advice and experiences of these guests will inspire our students this week and beyond as students discover ways to make a difference in the world and explore how to use their own voices for social impact.

The kickoff to the Middle School Reach Beyond Week, a full week that allows for deep dives into experiences that engage students in what matters to them and what they can do to reach beyond themselves and make a difference, was run in partnership with Hillbrook's newly launched Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship, led by Founding Director, Annie Makela. 
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