Sophomore history students show they aren’t too young to change the world

In a capstone assignment for sophomore World History II classes, Hayden Student Commons was transformed Thursday night into a lively think-tank of innovative, mission-driven ideas as  students presented their final project that called on them to create a fictional NGO, a non-governmental organization.
Their ideas—from protecting immigrants, feeding hungry elementary school children, to establishing cancer screening centers—integrated the global issues and current events they explored in class with a hands-on project on an issue personally important to them.

Under the guidance of World History II teachers April Garcez and John Duvall, students researched and defined a societal problem. Then they used a creative problem solving process known as “design thinking” to understand the problem through the perspective of those who are affected and come up with solutions infused with empathy.

The room buzzed with engaging conversations as students, computer presentations aglow, explained their projects to parents and visitors with confidence rooted in their months of research.

“It’s like a start-up convention in here!” one father was overheard commenting to a friend.

Lindsey Michelena ’21 felt the need to address the issue of college student poverty. She said many of her cousins, family members and friends attending college are deeply concerned about the cost. Lindsey then realized when researching college costs that food insecurity affects millions of college students. Her fictional NGO would establish a network of food pantries and raise awareness about the issue so students could seek help.

Several students reflected on the immigrant roots of their families. Sophia Serrano ’21 created an NGO in which volunteer monitors would ensure that human rights are protected at federal detention facilities.

Mariana Matar ’21, who is of Syrian descent, said she has felt the pain of her cousins and second cousins, who fled their homeland during civil war. Her NGO would establish education centers near refugee camps “because otherwise there is going to be a whole lost generation of uneducated children.”  

“This project really broadened my perspective and helped me understand how fortunate we are in this country and here at Mayfield,” Mariana said. “We need to find ways to pass it forward.”

Analyzing such weighty world problems is just what Mrs. Garcez had in mind.

“Students used the design thinking process from beginning to end, which will allow them to use this framework in college and beyond,” Mrs. Garcez said. “Their comfort with its purpose— to cultivate empathy and creativity to solve lofty problems—helps create female leaders in a world where they are needed so badly.”

Demonstrating the diversity of the projects, Anna Ochniak ’21 pointed out that the little honey bee needs to be saved. She showed research that for every three mouthfuls of food we consume, a bee has pollinated the food in one of them.

Her NGO would educate the public about the alarming collapse of hives worldwide, in part because of pesticide use. It would also advocate for more urban beekeepers. Anna said she has ordered two hives and will soon be practicing what she preaches.

In reflecting on the assignment, Anna said she is grateful for help and lessons from Mayfield librarians Ann Pibel and Julie Daniels. “Learning how to research responsibly with reliable sources has been so important,” Anna said.

Megan Spensiero ’21, who comes from a family of teachers, said real-life anecdotes about how difficult it is for a hungry child to learn informed her NGO, which builds community gardens in underserved schools to help provide nourishing produce.

The girls were eager to show their presentations to friends. Ezra Torres ’21, whose uncle was a Vietnam War veteran, explained to Megan how she was moved by eulogies at his funeral, which touched on the difficulties he experienced after his service. She researched the needs of vets suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and created an NGO that would create safe spaces for vets to talk and receive counseling.

“Working on this project showed me that even though there are big problems, there are opportunities to be a part of the solution,’ Ezra said.
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 21 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.