Jun 082017
 

Good morning and welcome to the 2017 Hillbrook school graduation ceremony. I want to extend a special welcome this morning to our guests on stage with me, including Los Gatos Mayor Marico Sayoc, Chair of the Board of Trustees Chuck Hammers, Head of Middle School Christina Pak, 8th grade level coordinator Eden Maisel, and Chris Hailey, graduate from the Class of 2013. Most importantly, it is my honor to welcome the soon to be graduated members of the Class of 2017.

A graduation is both an ending and a beginning. For the forty 8th graders behind me today, it represents the end of their time as students on our campus, the culmination of elementary and middle school, 10 years of extraordinary learning and growth. Through it all they were nurtured, challenged, and inspired by teachers who know them and care for them as people and learners. Teachers who continually push them to live out Hillbrook’s core values – be kind, be curious, take risks, be your best. I know that all of those teachers share with me incredible pride in their accomplishments to date, as well as extraordinary optimism for what they will do in the future.

Of course the graduates of the Class of 2017 are not the only ones undergoing a change. In front of me sit their proud parents and in many cases proud grandparents, uncles, aunts, and siblings.  For the parents, today also marks a major milestone. In particular, this year, we have a significant cohort of families who have spent more than a decade of their lives at Hillbrook, and whose youngest child or in some cases only child is graduating, meaning that the whole family will be transitioning to alum status in the year ahead. I trust that those families – and all of our graduates – will return often to share stories about how they are doing in the years ahead. While you may no longer be on our campus each day, you will always be a part of the Hillbrook family.

As I was trying to think of a good topic for today’s speech I found myself getting distracted. Every time I started to put a thought together, my mind was pulled in another direction. I felt like I was spinning out of control. What exactly was the problem? I was under the spell of fidget spinners. So instead of fighting it, I finally decided to give in and ask – what, if anything, can we learn from these ubiquitous little devices?

First, a little background for those of you in the audience, if there are any, who don’t yet know what I’m talking about. I remember the first time I saw a spinner. It was a Thursday in late April – or thereabouts – and I was walking through the Kindergarten area, past the bike track, by the swings, nearing the Kindergarten porch when I saw them – two Kindergartners spinning these little things, one on their finger, the other on their foot. “What’s that?” I asked innocently. By the end of the following week, I was seeing spinners everywhere – near the 1st/2nd grade picnic tables, on the 3rd/4th playground, in the Middle School science classrooms, even during Flag. Everyone was writing about them – the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic Monthly. Even the Pope talked about them in a speech. I decided I had to get one for myself. And, since I didn’t want our 8th graders to feel left out, I decided that we should provide them with Hillbrook-engraved fidget spinners on their graduation. Hey, 8th graders, check under your seats.

So, now that we are all on the same page as to what a fidget spinner is, let’s get back to my question – what can we learn from the emergence of this toy?

Popularity can be difficult to explain. As numerous people have pointed out, fidget spinners have been around for years. Why did their popularity explode now? The best answer that I’ve heard argues that Youtube videos fed the craze, and yet no one can really point to a specific catalyst. One store owner described receiving a call in mid-April asking for one. He had never heard of it. 30 minutes later he received his second call. Today, he is receiving 20-30 calls per day. Others have pointed to previous toy trends – I am sure all of the 8th graders remember Silly Bandz when they were in 1st grade, Rainbow Loom in 2nd or 3rd grade, and Pokemon Go at the beginning of this school year. All of these things caught people’s attention and for a brief period of time seemed to be everywhere. They also seemed to disappear – or at a least fade – nearly as quickly as they appeared. Which takes me to my first point….

Don’t confuse popularity with meaning or significance. The fact that nearly everyone has a fidget spinner does not necessarily make the item important or meaningful. As previous toy trends have shown us, things appear and disappear quickly. While it may be difficult to buy a fidget spinner today, within a few weeks or months you’ll likely have no problem buying them. I encourage each of you to recognize the similarity between the fleeting popularity of a toy and the fleeting satisfaction of other things in your lives, like social media popularity. Receiving 100 likes on Instagram or Snapchat may feel good in the moment, but it is not – and should not be – seen as a measure of your value.

And, yet, while we will be well-served to remember that the fidget spinner is, ultimately, a toy, I also encourage you to recognize the positive lessons that a simple toy can provide. One of the mistakes that people sometimes make as they grow up is they forget how to play. While we are well aware of the importance of play for young children, many people don’t realize that play is critical for adults as well. Dr. Stuart Brown the head of the National Institute for Play – yes, that’s a real organization – points out the value. He describes play as “something done for its own sake.” He notes “it is voluntary, it’s pleasurable….and the act itself is more important than the outcome.” Think joining a soccer league, board games with friends and family, brain puzzlers on a Sunday afternoon. Play brings people together, keeps our minds active, and creates opportunities for us to laugh and be joyful. I think about the various moments in which I’ve seen groups of children playing with fidget spinners, and I see evidence of how a toy and play can bring people together.

Play is also an essential component of innovation and entrepreneurship. A playful mindset keeps us open to possibilities, encourages us to make new connections with people and ideas, and fuels our imagination. Silicon Valley is known for creating workplace cultures that incorporate play and silliness. Why? Because entrepreneurial leaders know that we need to retain a playful spirit in order to solve the world’s most complex problems. As playwright Nagle Jackson wrote, “The truly great advances of this generation will be made by those who can make outrageous connections, and only a mind which knows how to play can do that.” Put another way, I encourage each of you to take your work seriously, but never take yourself too seriously. Never be afraid to be silly, take risks, and even occasionally make yourself look like a fool. You never know – it may lead to the next great innovation that will take over Silicon Valley and the world.

So, Class of 2017, I guess the final lesson is don’t underestimate the power of something unexpected – even a toy – to teach you important lessons about life. Stay curious, keep taking risks, lead with kindness, and above all, be your best. Keep those Hillbrook fidget spinners as a reminder, and come back and visit often. We can’t wait to see what you will do to change the world.

Jan 122017
 

kindjarTen years ago this week, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world. As a school, the iPhone – and its many subsequent iterations and offshoots – has challenged us to rethink the meaning of education. What exactly do students need to know if they have near instantaneous access to information in their pocket?

The iPhone, of course, is just one example of the transformative changes that are happening at an ever more rapid pace. Artificial Intelligence may represent an even greater disruption to our lives. In 10, 20 or 50 years, what exactly will we be able to do more effectively than computers in an age of ever “smarter” technology?

Amidst this ever-accelerating rate of change, we as educators and parents are continually challenged to answer the question: How do we prepare children for a future we cannot imagine today? Some schools answer by playing to fear, creating programs that emphasize rote learning at ever younger ages and arguing, indirectly, that stressful, homework-intensive environments are the best way to prepare children for the world of tomorrow. The message seems to be that visible evidence of “accomplishment” represents learning.

At Hillbrook, we offer what I believe is a more optimistic, child-focused answer. We focus on nurturing the growth of each child, and we understand that authentic learning and understanding happens for different children, at different times. The classic one-size fits all approach to education simply does not work in today’s dynamic environment, in which we are looking to equip students with skills – critical thinking, writing, scientific reasoning, creativity, empathy, cultural competency – that are not taught or measurable through traditional, more rote avenues.

At the heart of Vision 2020 is a challenge to us as a school and a community to reimagine the student experience and create ever-more opportunities for students to engage in authentic problem solving activities. In addition, we have challenged ourselves to push beyond our campus and create opportunities for students to reach beyond themselves and make a difference in the world.

With that as a backdrop, I am excited to announce the launch of a program that we believe will help us transform the educational program at Hillbrook and beyond – the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship – the application of an intentional and entrepreneurial approach to prototyping innovative solutions to social problems – lies at the intersection of several key strands of Vision 2020 – project-based learning, design thinking, making, and service learning – and will be a major driver in helping us to reach beyond our own campus to make a difference in the world. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, for example, has been described as an early social entrepreneur, with his groundbreaking work in micro-financing that enabled philanthropists around the world to loan small sums of money – typically less than $100 – to provide the necessary capital to change someone’s life.

The Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship would build upon the Maker Movement, design thinking, and problem-based learning, challenging students to design products, concepts and processes that aim to make a difference in the world. While many schools across the country have focused on pieces of this puzzle – creating centers for design thinking, for example, or building MakerSpaces – few, if any, schools have created integrated programs that prepare children to be the future leaders and problem-solvers that will make our world a better place.

Like other innovative initiatives in the past five years – our 1-to-1 iPad program, our reimagination of learning spaces, the creation of the Resident Teacher program – we believe that the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship will open the door for us to build connections and partnerships with organizations and schools locally, nationally and internationally.

Our first step is to hire a founding Director for the program. The founding Director has the exciting and unique opportunity to co-create with our community a program that will extend the work we are already doing in service learning, making, and project-based learning. The founding director will join us as we near completion of the design phase and embark on the building of the Hub (projected launch date, January 2019), the new state-of-the-art MakerSpace that will serve as the epicenter of hands-on, project-based learning on campus. The founding director will be charged with designing a social entrepreneurship program that serves our own students and faculty and also creates opportunities to engage the broader community outside of our campus. The founding director will also seek and develop partnerships with community organizations, and will help us explore satellite campus facilities and spaces in the community, and will develop both on-campus and off-campus programming for school year and summer sessions. The full position description is posted on our website.

The Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship is being funded by the largest philanthropic gift in the history of the school – a $2.5 million pledge by Shannon and Kevin Scott, which includes seed funding and an endowment that will fund the center in perpetuity. We are so grateful for their extraordinary generosity, and for their understanding that the future of education requires all of us to create opportunities for students to engage in real-world problem solving. With their support, we will be able to build a program that helps our community to reach beyond our campus and truly make a difference in the world.

Steve Jobs said he wanted to make a dent in the universe. The Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship is one way in which we at Hillbrook are trying to impact the world for the better.

Sep 282016
 
Photo Credit: Tammy McGarry Nickel

Photo Credit: Tammy McGarry Nickel

This past Saturday morning, recent Hillbrook alums – Alex Nickel ‘16 and Liam Strand ‘16 – were honored as Los Gatos Youth Citizens of the Year. They join a growing list of Hillbrook alums –  Isabel Perez ’15, Courtney Mathisen ’14, Olivia Borenstein Lawee ’14, JT Belshe ’13, Cole Hammers ’13, Molly Ball ’12, and Jo Sanford ’11 – who have received this high honor, an award that recognizes students who have made a significant contribution to the Los Gatos/Monte Sereno community and are role models for other young people.

Their recognition highlights how members of the Hillbrook community are being noticed for our commitment to reaching beyond themselves to make a difference in the world. Last Spring, for example, Hillbrook was by far the largest team entered in theGreat Race. With more than 65 runners, we earned prize money that was then utilized to sponsor the recent Stop Hunger Nowproject that was part of the Week of Service. In just a little over a week, the school is receiving the 2016 Compassion in Action Award from the African Library Project, a recognition for the 15 libraries created by the school in Malawi and Swaziland since 2009. Over the past five years, we have been consistently recognized byBreakthrough Silicon Valley as one of their strongest and most valued partners, a partnership that has made both of our organizations stronger.

Of course, as a school we are not performing a wide variety of service project in an effort to be recognized. Instead, we are striving to live out a core piece of our vision “to reach beyond ourselves to make a difference in the world.” The recognition simply affirms that what we are doing is making a difference and, we hope, inspires others to join us in seeking out their own way to make the world a better place.

Even more importantly, we are continually seeking ways to integrate our service projects into the curriculum. Last Friday, for example, our Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten students met a visitor from the West Valley Waste Management team who taught them about the importance of the 3 Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle as they launch their yearlong study of garbage and the impact we have on the environment. This coming Friday, the 3rd grade will be launching their study of disabilities, with the DisAbility Awareness Presentation, a hands-on presentation that helps students gain insight into the reality of those with disabilities by having them experience different types of challenges that people can face. Students then develop a pen pal relationship with local children and, later in the year, meet and play with the children.

HSPC Service Learning Parent Coordinator Elan Nguyen has recently completed a beautiful, inspiring, and accessible exhibit in the library that ties together children’s literature, a wide-array of grade-level service projects, and big questions about how children can make a difference in the world. The exhibit will help teachers, students, and families extend the work we are doing as part of our curriculum and consider how we can push in new and interesting ways to make things better both on campus and beyond 300 Marchmont Drive. I encourage parents when they are next on campus to swing by the exhibit and check it out.

This coming week, we will be donating 100 iPads to Treasures 4 Teens, an organization that provides holiday gifts to under-resourced teenagers. Founded by a group of Los Gatos high school students back in 2010, the organization is currently led by several students, including their vice-chairperson and Hillbrook alumnae Sophie Mortaz ‘13. Youth Citizen of the Year recipient Alex Nickel and Aleksy Coughlin ‘13 also were active members of the organization last year. Sophie’s commitment to service connected Hillbrook with this worthwhile cause, and enabled us to make a gift that will positively impact a number of teenagers this December. Sophie’s leadership and initiative, traits we know were nurtured during her time at Hillbrook, and her recognition that Hillbrook is committed to giving back to our community enabled this positive outcome.
Vision 2020 calls on us to “deepen and extend the work of our Service Learning program, creating opportunities to partner with a broad range of organizations throughout Silicon Valley in order to engage the Hillbrook community in meaningful service projects both on and off campus.” Clearly we are already doing much of this. I can’t wait to see where we take this program in the next four years and beyond.

Sep 142016
 

p1000453

At the heart of our campus sits the Village of Friendly Relations. Built by our students back in the late 1930s, these small houses represent the physical manifestation of founder Mary Orem’s vision for how Hillbrook (then called The Children’s Country School) could make the world a better place. The Village serves as “an experimental plant for promoting Peace,” she wrote in a letter in September 1937. She continued,

“Training for peace must begin in the nursery, where tolerance and a willingness to share are natural outgrowths in adjustment….to discard the chaff before prejudice has a chance to set in… (to show) that friendly settling of disagreements is possible in a group of variegated backgrounds and so through understanding and working for a common good, Peace is possible.”

More than 80 years later, we remain committed to this idealistic and optimistic notion – the belief that through an educational experience that prioritizes engagement, collaboration, social emotional learning, and student choice, our students are inspired to become changemakers and leaders, individuals who look for ways to reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world.

We are in the middle of Hillbrook’s inaugural “Week of Service,” a weeklong exploration of how our community can reach beyond ourselves to engage both on and off-campus in meaningful service opportunities. Inspired by the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, the week provides us an opportunity to link our efforts to a broader, national effort.

As we noted at Flag this past Monday, 9/11 has become a historical event for our students, not all that different to them from other historical events like Pearl Harbor, the Civil Rights Movement, or the Vietnam War. For all of us adults, who have strong and indelible memories of that day, it is often hard to recognize how quickly something shifts from a felt memory to just another historical event read about in history books. With this in mind, it is important that we find ways to teach them in age-appropriate ways about that day and help them understand that giving back and making a difference in the world are not only Hillbrook values, but values that are shared by many within our local, regional, and national communities.

p1000443This week our students are having an opportunity to learn about hunger, poverty, and homelessness, serious and complex issues that are somewhat invisible to many within our community, particularly students. We are working with a broad range of local organizations – St. Luke’s Pantry, House of Hope, San Jose Family Shelter, Georgia Travis House – to provide hands-on experience and education for our students. In the process of serving others, our students gain insight into the broader needs of the community and the ways, both big and small, that they can help to make a difference.

p1000438We are also finding opportunities to engage with other local organizations, in the process strengthening our connections with the broader Los Gatos community. Last Spring, our school received an $800 prize from the Los Gatos Rotary as the largest team to participate in the Great Race (over 65 members of the Hillbrook community participated!). When we learned of the prize, we immediately talked with the Rotary Club and decided that together we would utilize the funds to support Stop Hunger Now, an international organization committed to ending world hunger.  Thus, this week, volunteers from Los Gatos Rotary joined with students and parents from Hillbrook to package more than 15,000 meals. As explained on the Stop Hunger Now website, “meals are shipped throughout the world to support school feeding programs, orphanages, and crisis relief. The food is stored easily, transported quickly, and has a shelf-life of two years.”

We are proud of the impact our efforts are having this week, efforts that build upon the extraordinary work we have done in previous years as part of our service learning efforts. Whether it is the fifteen libraries created in Malawi through the African Library Project or the school foundation laid in Nicaragua by our students two years ago, the thousands of meals served at local shelters or the hundreds of students at local elementary schools positively impacted by our Middle School students, the indelible connections forged between our third graders and special-needs students from the local public schools or the passionate commitment to recycling inspired by our many green projects, our community has always been committed to making a difference in the world.
Since 1935, we have believed that through the creation of an educational environment that nurtures, challenges and inspires, we can raise children who will change the world. While many things have changed in the past 80 years, our “experimental plant for promoting peace” continues to thrive and grow both on and off campus.

May 112016
 
6th grade students pack books to send to fill a library in Malawi, Africa, as a part of this year's African Library Project

6th grade students pack books to send to fill a library in Malawi, Africa, as a part of this year’s African Library Project

What problem are you going to solve?

A recent meme playing out across the educational Twitter-sphere, inspired by a comment made by Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston, has been a call to replace the question we typically ask children – “what are you going to do when you grow up?” – with a different question – “what problem are you going to solve when you grow up?”

I love this question. It feels so perfectly Hillbrook in its focus on reaching beyond ourselves to make a difference in the world. It also resonates powerfully with my own childhood upbringing, as both of my parents continually reminded me both through words and actions that the true value of a life is measured through the impact we have on others. My most vivid memories of my parents involve examples of sacrifice, unselfishness, and a focus on doing something for someone other than yourself. I remember my father, a doctor, staying up all night to save someone in the emergency room and then still joining me for an 80-mile bike ride to the beach because he had promised me that important father/son journey. Or, my mother, who would bring me along to her weekly visits to the single units of a number of low-income elderly people living in downtown Portland, isolated, alone, and struggling to retain their dignity and their connection to a world that had effectively turned its back on them. Their eyes would light up when my mother walked into the room, her respect for them as fully realized people, not just someone struggling to survive each day, evident in every interaction.

If you asked my parents what problems they were trying to solve, I suspect my father would have said he was simply trying to solve people’s health problems – from back pain to brain tumors, while my mother might have said she was trying to make a small dent in the twin problems of homelessness and aging in an urban environment. To my mind, the specifics of the answer are less interesting or important than the fact that both of them knew they were engaged in meaningful work that was, in a small way, making the world a better place.

tftLast week, I received an e-mail from one of our high school alums, Sophie Mortaz, who is the vice-chairperson for Treasures for Teens, a student-led non-profit that provides holiday gifts to teenagers between 11 – 18. Founded six years ago, the organization meets a very specific need that is often overlooked in the broader holiday toy drives of service organizations. Hillbrook students supported this effort this past year, and Sophie was reaching out to follow-up on a conversation we had earlier this year about donating some of our iPads that we were going to remove from circulation to the organization at the end of the year.

Students construct solar-powered light sources to promote literacy in communities that live off the grid.

Students construct solar-powered light sources to promote literacy in communities that live off the grid.

The exchange was noteworthy to me primarily in that it was neither noteworthy nor unusual in the day-to-day experience of our community. Sophie’s effort is just one of a myriad  different ways in which the school is continually involved in service learning opportunities. In just the past few weeks, there was the African Library Project and bake sale, the Lighting for Literacy collaboration with the Rotary Club, the adoption by the 1st grade of an animal at the Oakland Zoo, the 1st/2nd grade art exhibition at Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company, and the monthly 7th/8th grade service learning trips. greatraceIn addition, more than 75 Hillbrook community members participated in the Great Race, a fundraiser for the Los Gatos Rotary. As the largest contingent at the race, we received a donation that we are now working with the Rotary to determine how best to redirect in service of yet another community project.

Listening to 8th graders sharing capstone projects at Flag this past month, several of them have focused on projects that involve solving a problem they have experienced themselves or seen in the larger community. One student, for example, is developing a possible course for 7th and 8th graders that would help them better manage stress and anxiety, while a group of students is creating a series of videos and simple tinkering equipment kits to help students in less privileged communities have access to the power of design, engineering, and making.lgrc1

And, lest you think I have forgotten, our parents are continually finding ways to support the school and the community. The school would simply not function without the thousands of hours of parent help, from parent leadership of events like the Auction and our upcoming Walkathon to the tireless work of room parents, service learning drivers and volunteers, parent education coordinators, and so many others. Beyond official roles, parents are also some of our best problem solvers. Two parents, for example, have recently sought to solve one of Hillbrook’s oldest and most intractable problems – the chaotic and ever-overflowing lost & found. Their quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts these past few weeks have made a real dent in the problem and offer hope for all parents that the annual cycle of lost sweatshirts and jackets may eventually be broken.
Big or small, straightforward or complex, solving a problem forces each of us to look beyond ourselves and make something better. Whether talking to our children or reflecting on our own life, we would all be well-served to ask….and ask again…..this simple question, “What problem are you going to solve?”